Since 2005, when the Aid for Trade (AFT) initiative was launched to facilitate commerce among the least developed countries (LDCs), Uganda has received close to $1bn.
Uganda is among the top ten receivers of AFT, according to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). AFT encourages donors to give funds to LDCs, to create trade-enabling infrastructure, and support initiatives to ease local and international trade.
But, as researchers Isaac Shinyekwa and Alex Thomas Ijjo ask in a recent paper, has this money achieved its objectives?
The two fellows at Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) show that AFT has only succeeded to a certain extent - with the lack of significant investment in railways as one of the failures.
Among key AFT investments are sponsoring review meetings for the formulation of the National Trade Policy (NTP); supporting port upgrading, technical support for trade negotiations and regulatory frameworks, and designing of better border posts.
Trademark East Africa is one such an AFT donor. It has aided Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to construct border points for the roll-out of the web-based customs management system Asycuda world.
The system handles manifests and customs declarations, accounting procedures, and transit and suspense procedures. It is expected to reduce delays in clearing goods at border posts.
Uganda is also a beneficiary of the World Bank's East Africa Trade and Transport Facilitation Project - which started in 2006 - to tackle delays, inefficiency and other problems plaguing the northern corridor from Mombasa.
According to the bank, about $199m have been spent on the project. It has seen port security improved and provided facilities for information sharing at Mombasa, and supported the single customs territory - expected to ease flow of goods within East Africa after the first port of entry.
Other beneficiaries of AFT in Uganda include the Bio Trade Initiative by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It's intended to help in sustainable agriculture, handicrafts, and wildlife trade, among others.
While many of these projects are critical, opinion is not united on whether Uganda has got the best value for money.
"AFT support has gone into infrastructure rightly so as the efficiency of the transportation network directly impacts competitiveness. The prioritization of infrastructure also represents a good aid alignment with the national development strategy," Shinyekwa and Ijjo noted in the paper.
Speaking to The Observer last week, Shinyekwa said: "Very little has been put into cheaper rail and waterways. A regionally-integrated transport network is required to significantly facilitate trade growth."
Godfery Ssali, policy and advocacy officer for Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), says a lot of work is not seen on the ground.
"It is still more expensive to get my goods to the market. I still take many days plus paying a lot of bribes to import."
From Malaba to Kampala, a truck is weighed about four times. On each weighbridge, traders say, they have to pay something to move on. Meanwhile, exporters have expressed concern over the increasing informal cross-border trade in the region.
Traders say the huge volume of informal exports and imports have reduced their level of competitiveness, and denied government tax revenues.
Speaking at the trade and regional integration dissemination conference organised by EPRC recently, Busingye Rwabwogo, general manager for Mukwano Industries, said they were concerned at the rate at which informal trade was growing at the borders.
"A lot of people buy merchandise and go with it in the bus to Kenya. They don't pay any taxes and they go ahead to trade those in the countries they go to," said Rwabwogo. "People are exporting maize on bicycles. They are importing sugar from Kenya in buckets."
Indeed, the 2011 informal cross border trade report by Bank of Uganda and Uganda Bureau of Statistics, shows that while informal imports declined, there was still a bigger margin of goods being traded informally.
Informal exports in 2011 amounted to $355.9m(approximately Shs 912bn) while formal exports reached $ 2,159.1m (approximately Shs 5.5tn)
Goods imported informally include coffee beans, beans, rice, cooking oil, bananas (Gonja), clothes and wheat flour, among others. Exports include fish, maize grains, cattle and eggs. Kenya remains Uganda's lead supplier of informal imports, followed by DRC, and South Sudan.
In 2010, government said it would facilitate informal trade as one way of supporting women and low- income earners who were mostly engaged in such trade.