Busia, Malaba cross border traders face wrath of Covid-19

A woman hawks bananas at Malaba border. Covid-19 has exacerbated women's business burden at border points. Some of them now use unsafe alternatives to get their wares across the two countries.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Restricted movements at the Kenya-Uganda border points has had a negative impact on women’s lives and sexual rights.
  • Women resorted to unsafe alternatives to trade their merchandise.
  • Some risked to cross over to either countries through Malaba River and porous routes.
  • In April, a woman was washed away by the tide.
  • Ugandan woman from Busia border  gang-raped as she crossed a porous route.

Restricted movements at the Kenya-Uganda border points to contain the spread of Covid-19 has had a negative impact on women’s lives and sexual rights.

With the delimited flow of human and goods at the Malaba and Busia borders, women resorted to unsafe alternatives to trade their merchandise.

Trade Mark East Africa, head of women and trade program, Ms Gloria Atuheirwe said women risked to cross over through Malaba River and porous routes, which exposed them to fatal perils.

“The women floated their consignments to cross over the river and there are stories of some of the consignments being washed away,” she said during a September 10, webinar on Plight of Women Traders during the Covid-19 pandemic organised by Institute of Economic Affairs.


“In April, a woman was washed away by the tide,” added Ms Atuheirwe as she highlighted findings from their ongoing study of the challenges facing women in the Kenya-Uganda cross border trade.

Again, a 38-year-old Ugandan woman from the Busia border was gang-raped as she crossed a porous route at 5am with her tomato consignment.

The woman, Ms Atuheirwe said, did not report the sexual assault to the police for fear of being divorced should her husband learn of the incident.

Their profits too plummeted by up 99 per cent.

Prior to emergence of Covid-19, the women, who the World Bank estimates constitute the 75 per cent of the cross border traders in Africa, earned daily average profits of $100 (Sh10,800) to $1,000 (Sh108,000).

Women-owned businesses

“That has been totally eroded in the last few months,” she explained.

In January, the Ugandan women traders made USh300,000 compared to “almost non-existent” profits in March, she said. Similarly, their Kenyan counterparts made less than Sh1,000 in March against Sh5,000 in January.

She said many of the women-owned businesses closed due to lack of operational cash flow, drop in demand and reduced opportunities to meet new customers.

The World Bank indicates that in this Covid-19 situation, female-owned businesses across the globe are 5.9 percentage points more likely to close their businesses than male owned-businesses.

Kenya Trade Network Agency (KenTrade), director of trade facilitation, Ms Rose Ronoh, said disruption of the global value chain greatly affected women-owned businesses since they could not get supplies.

Tax burden

“The pandemic has led to reallocation of income expenditure priorities and this has affected women businesses that offer products and services which are now considered luxury such as hospitality industry, clothing and beauty,” she said.

She called for provision of tailor-made tax incentives and loans for women-owned businesses to alleviate tax burden and promote their ventures.

Ms Ronoh also advised on use of women’s networks to communicate government policies.

She said women have little knowledge on existence of the affirmative policies meant to empower them economically, especially the 30 per cent preferential procurement for women, youth and persons with disabilities

 “Uptake of this policy is very low. When we put out the tenders, women don’t bid,” she said.