Cases of petty smuggling across countries in East Africa Community have significantly gone down after over 10,000 cross-border women traders within the trading bloc underwent training on border operations.
The traders were also trained on common market protocol as part of an initiative to eliminate smuggling and tax evasion during cross-border trade.
The Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for Advancement of Women (EASIAW) has been conducting trade workshops, sensitization and training for thousands of small scale women cross-border traders in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea since 2014.
The organization is planning to venture to South Sudan this year.
Speaking in Taveta town on Saturday, the organization’s Program Director Ms. Mansura Aheebwa, said the initiative, funded by Trademark Kenya, was meant to empower women traders as part of a long-term goal of enhancing trading activities at the border points.
Ms. Aheebwa noted that most women engaged in cross-border posts were faced with similar challenges and were ignorant of inter-country border operations.
She added that women felt intimidated by border operations and opted to engage in illegal smuggling of goods across the border using dangerous routes manned by criminals.
Our role is simply to inform the women that customs operations are not as complex or as intimidating as they think. In fact, these women can do trade legally without incurring taxation costs, she said.
She added that EASIAW was focusing on documentation, taxation regimes and explaining rules that government trade between and among countries.
The organization is also engaged in exchange visits where traders from one border post can visit other trading border posts for experience sharing.
Ms. Aheebwa said that since the training started, there has been a significant drop in the number of women engaged in smuggling of goods through illegal routes.
She noted that the number of traders going through the customs at the border post has gone up exponentially over the years.
Ms. Ruth Warutere, the project coordinator, said most women feared heavy taxation at the border posts would cripple their business.
She however stated that training on trade regimes and acquisition of certificate of origin by the traders has demystified the complexity associated with cross-border trade.
She added that the traders were shocked to realize they can be exempted from tax if their goods are valued at less than 2,000 dollars.
Most were fleeing from taxation but we explained it was possible to pass through the customs with their goods and not pay a coin, she explained.
She added that the meetings were used as platforms to air the grievances and challenges facing the traders.
Amongst the officials present at the Taveta meeting include border officials, Kenya Revenue Authority, Tanzania Revenue Authority, police bosses from Tanzania and Kenya, public health officials and experts from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS). All these officials are involved in the border trade.
The organization has trained traders at several border posts in East Africa.
They include traders at Taveta-Holili border post between Kenya and Tanzania and at Busia-Malaba border between Uganda and Kenya.
It has also trained traders at Mrama Hill or Katuna border point between Uganda and Rwanda.
There are also member traders at Mutukula between Uganda and Tanzania and at Kobelo between Tanzania and Burundi.
Ms. Celina Shoro, Vice Chair of Taveta Cross-Border Traders Association, said the trainings were being escalated into the grassroots level to benefit as many people as possible.
She noted that women traders with little formal education could now manage to go through all the required offices at the border post without much hustle.
In the past, there have been complaints by Kenyan traders of constant harassment by the Tanzanian authorities.
The traders, especially cereal buyers, said they were subjected to intimidation and general hostility that made doing business in Tanzania agonizing.
Ms. Anesta Lao, a trader, claimed authorities in Tanzania were generally suspicious of Kenyan and traders were subjected to long and unnecessary delays at the custom point.
She said that Tanzanians on the other hand were treated courteously by Kenyan officials when coming and going back to their country.
We need to be treated fairly by the officials. We are just traders doing little business, she said.
The OCS of Holili Police Station in Tanzania Mr. Isaac Munuo said all traders who had complied with the law were free to conduct business.
He said that most of those who complained of harassment had either broken certain regulations, lacked documentation or had lied about their mission.
Both countries are open for trade but the laws at the border are simple to follow. Those who evade them are the ones who have a lot of questions to answer, he said.
Ms. Aheebwa said that such grievances of harassment by traders of East Africa Community were being noted and the organization would escalate them to East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) for debate.
She added that there was need to harmonize all cross-border trade policies and regulations to ensure all traders were subjected to the same kind of scrutiny.
Source: Kenya News Agency