Uganda: Covid-19 Challenges Have Not Stopped Cross Border Trade At Nimule, Elegu

11 January 2021

Even with elaborate internal and external support, South Sudan continues to be a fragile state almost a decade after attaining independence.

Much as multiple nation building programmes continue to be implemented, most of them have been put on a test as a result of the havoc created by Covid-19.

Imposition of curfews and lockdowns at border points has been most problematic.

Whereas formal international trade had been allowed to continue, informal cross border trade was massively impacted by Covid-19 restrictions as traders, mainly women, were no longer able to cross borders to conduct trade.

As a result of restricted movements, wrong characters took advantage to harass, assault and rape traders. A number of cases have already been documented with authorities at the Nimule cross border point.

Justus Lyatuu had a discussion with John Bosco Kalisa, the Trademark East Africa South Sudan programmes coordinator, in which a number of challenges were noted.

Below are the excerpts

How was 2020?

It was a challenging year due to the impact of Covid-19. But we are glad we managed to navigate through. Through our trade facilitation initiative, we are looking for a solid and positive recovery, having done some substantive work around the border, such as supporting trade facilitation infrastructure as well as supporting women who have been heavily affected by Covid-19. So, I am happy that we are on the right track despite the challenges we experienced in the 2020.

There have been a number of highlights in 2020. As I stated, this has been an unprecedented time due to Covid-19, but the key highlight from the TradeMark South Sudan programme is we managed to complete and handed over the $5m Nimule one stop border post (OSBP) funded by UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office through TradeMark East Africa.

It is such a big achievement given that it anchors the trade facilitation initiative, which seeks to reduce a number of barriers hindering the movement of goods and services along the Nimule border.

Secondly, we are glad we have continued to support South Sudan to strengthen its integration into the East African Community (EAC). South Sudan is a new member of EAC, therefore it requires a lot support in a number of areas such as trade policy initiatives. Through various interventions, we have been able to push through measures that will have a long term impact on the people of South Sudan.

Thirdly, we have also appropriated support towards private sector advocacy, where we have built and strengthened the capacity of the private sector in South Sudan to actively engage in the East African Business Council (EABC).

Beyond this, we have helped South Sudan to harmonise standards, using the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. South Sudan depends heavily on imported food, so it is critical that health and safety measures are put in place to protect consumers.

We have also been able to channel support towards women traders, who as you might be aware, have been heavily affected by Covid-19. The support seeks to ensure that they recover from the impact of Covid-19. This has been done through providing necessary tools and equipment to help trade continuation.

At the close of 2020, we formed a partnership with AMREF to sensitise and raise awareness among women to ensure that they conduct trade in a safe environment.

We also plan to use Safe Trade Zones Protocols, which is being supported by EU and IGAD, to create safe cross border markets at Nimule.

Finally, we have done a lot of work with the Shippers' Council by supporting shippers, freighter and forwarders to understand protocols related to Covid-19 as well as putting in place measures that seek to strengthen freighter and forwarders association.

You recently launched the Safe Trade Emergency Facility to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on Trade. How has this been received?

The Safe Trade Emergency Facility (STEF) has been well received in South Sudan. South Sudan was the first country to launch the Safe Trade Zones at Nimule in October 2020. The initiative will benefit more than 2,000 women at Nimule alone. Women and youth have been heavily affected by Covid-19, therefore, we are doing a lot of value addition to ensure recovery of particularly these groups of traders.

While in Nimule and Elegu in December, it was noted that only women in Elegu had received personal protective equipment in the fight against Covid-19. When do you plan to distribute to women in Nimule?

We have already received the PPEs. They were delivered to our stores by World Food Programme. So, we are waiting for the official handover before the end of January after which the frontline staff and traders at Nimule will receive their PPEs.

Women have also complained of harassment, assault and some of rape at the border. How do you, as TradeMark EA and your partners, plan to address this?

Yes, indeed these are some of the issues we are addressing under our non-tariff barriers (NTB) programme. These are some of trade restrictiveness issues we keep encountering.

You would understand, South Sudan is emerging from a conflict, so, it requires a number of efforts to sensitize the soldiers and officials that are harassing traders especially women.

The good thing is, we are working on a programme with our counterparts in Uganda to ensure that truckers and the women are able to report such cases through a real time sms system.

In the past, it has been difficult due to a number of NTBs on the Nimule-Juba road but this programme will ensure that there is a toll-line for reporting such issues. We hope to rollout the system this year.

Cross border trade has been made difficult due to a number of requirements such as Covid-19 certificates, which cost above $50 and above. How can they be helped?

That issue of Covid-19 certificates is not only at Nimule and Elegu. It has been an issue across East African.

I am happy that EAC heads of state and ministers of health are working on a solution to have only one test across the region. If you are tested in Uganda, you don't need to be tested again in South Sudan. That certificate can be valid for up to 14 days.

Again, the cost of these tests is very high. $50 is a lot for informal women. This is like their livelihood. It doesn't make business sense to pay $50 for a test for a trader who selling tomato across the border.

Under the safe Trade zones, we are proposing that such traders shouldn't be tested so long as they are adhering to the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs). They can cross the borders so long as they can observe the Covid-19 guidelines.

After a hard 2020 characterised by Covid-19, what do you see happening in 2021?

There are a lot of positive expectations in 2021. As I mentioned, our safe trade initiative has produced tangible results across the region. We have delivered PPEs and formulated trade policy programmes across the region. We are also working on a plan with the EAC Secretariat to have an economic recovery programme where we want to strengthen our regional value chain.

So, I see a lot of positive trends in 2021. As I said, 2020 was a challenging and unprecedented year. It has triggered some of those unknowns, for instance, social distancing and lockdowns. These have had a negative impact, especially on the people's welfare.

However, we have positivism now that Covid-19 vaccines are being tested and awareness is improving.

In December 2020, we introduced the equal masks programme in South Sudan. Those are some of the new tools that will enhance the recovery agenda. That is why I am saying there is a lot of positivism for 2021.

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