On May 13, International Alert facilitated a meeting of the World Bank’s Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, Ms Sri Mulyani Indrawati, with four women cross-border traders in Rubavu district, Rwanda.
Two Rwandese and two Congolese traders had the opportunity to discuss their daily business challenges and needs with Ms Indrawati, including the different types of products they trade, their relationship with traders from the other side of the border and how this trade helps them meet their families’ livelihood needs, including covering medical and educational costs.
The women also talked about the problems they face when crossing the border, the prevalence of informal taxes on the Congolese side, the division of responsibilities within the household, the lack of adequate market infrastructure and their financing needs.
Ms Indrawati listened intently to the traders, who proposed ways in which their conditions of trade could be improved, including the application of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) simplified trading regime (this allows traders to pay no tax on certain goods up to a daily transaction value of $500), establishing a single tax collection point, increasing access to capital for traders, and removing certain non-authorised state services from the Congolese border.
The traders also highlighted changes that have already happened due to interventions by organisations such as International Alert. Since 2009, Alert has worked to improve the conditions for women trading across borders between Rwanda and DRC, including by training traders in cooperative management and business skills, informing them of their rights, supporting advocacy to improve trade regulations and facilitating dialogue between traders and border agency officials.
The four women spoke about being less afraid of confronting border service agents, the improved confidence of traders to advocate for themselves for changes to their working conditions, and improved contacts between Congolese and Rwandese traders via cooperatives, with Rwandese traders providing credit to Congolese traders.
In supporting improved conditions for cross-border trade, Alert seeks to contribute to building trust across conflict divides between traders, as well as strengthening the economic power of these women, who constitute on average 75% of cross-border traders in the region.
This meeting was held near Rwanda’s border crossing with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) commonly known as the ‘petite barrière’.
Photos © Ramon Sanchez Orense