Cross-border women traders call for friendly operating environment

cross-border women traders have called on the government to support them and also improve the trading environment.
Traders at a market in Goma at the Rwanda-DR Congo border. / Donata Kiiza.
Traders at a market in Goma at the Rwanda-DR Congo border. / Donata Kiiza.

cross-border women traders have called on the government to support them and also improve the trading environment. The women traders operating between Rusizi-Bukavu and Rubavu-Goma border posts say corruption, sexual harassment and inadequate operating capital are affecting businesses.

Janet Mukamunana, a member of Icyerekezo Cyiza Cooperative that sells tomatoes and onions, said these challenges have affected business growth and their earnings. As a result, we cannot compete with traders from the DR Congo who deal in similar products, she said during a recent tour of the cooperative by the Rusizi District leaders.

According to their cooperatives, small-and-medium enterprise (SME) owners doing cross-border trade also face sexual harassment and lack facilities like early childhood development centres to support them while doing their businesses. Corruption and harassment are reportedly experienced while in the DRC.

The over 200 traders working under the Tushiriki Wote project initiated by International Alert and Reseau de Femmes, a non-profit that supports women traders, say they cannot access finance as they don’t have collateral.

Most of the women cross-border traders operate small businesses, like selling fish, tomatoes, milk, and other types of fruits.

the Tushiriki Wote project is helping the cross-border women traders to overcome some of these challenges, and also build their capacity through training programmes in business management and entrepreneurship so that they can be able to manage their enterprises properly.

Betty Mutesi, the International Alert country director, said it is important to empower cross-border women traders, noting that this helps reduce dependency on their husbands and improves their welfare. Mutesi added that small businesses also contribute significantly to national development.

Mutesi said in an interview that the organisation is working closely with the DRC authorities to ensure that the traders are protected while carrying out their businesses in the neighbouring country.

“In addition, we want to collaborate with some microfinance institutions so that they can provide more funding to cross-border women traders.

Under the Tushiriki Wote project, the women are also encouraged to embrace the savings culture. “They were grouped into cooperatives for easy trade and development,” she said. To tackle the challenges the districts are constructing markets that will also have children’s centres.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and East African Affairs and Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion are working closely to enable women run their business efficiently, according to the officials.

Frederic Harerimana, the mayor of Rusizi District, said the district, in collaboration with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), will support small businesses. “We are planning to construct a market to enable women run their business successfully. World Vision has also committed to give them soft loans,” he added.

Rwanda’s informal cross-border exports with neighbouring countries, increased by 21.4 per cent, amounting to $121.93 million in 2016, up from $100.45 million in 2015, according to central bank. Exports to the Democratic

Republic of Congo (DRC) represented a biggest share of 74.7 per cent of the total informal cross-border exports. Informal cross-border imports rose by 41.2 per cent, from $21.62 million in 2015 to $30.52 million in 2016. Informal imports from the DRC were 9 per cent during the reporting period.

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