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High hopes border reopening will cut cost of goods

Saturday March 12 2022
Gatuna border crossing

People milling around the Katuna/Gatuna border crossing after the Rwandan side reopening on January 31. PHOTO | AFP

By ANGE ILIZA

The reopening of the Rwanda-Uganda border has brought optimism to border communities who now expect a drop in the prices of basic commodities after the resumption of trade.

The announcement that Rwanda would open all its land borders on March 7 was received with celebrations by traders and families who have been separated from kith and kin for three years.

Rwanda has seen an increase in prices of basic foodstuff such as sugar, oil, fruits and vegetables, and traders are optimistic that the resumption of cross-border movement will lower the prices as supply improves.

As of Wednesday, March 7, travel had resumed on the three major borders -- Gatuna, Rusumo and Rubavu.

Rwanda’s border with Burundi remains closed on Burundi’s side.

In Gicumbi, the border district with Uganda, traffic is gradually resuming despite strict measures enforced on travellers. The excitement to travel and traffic can be discerned right from Nyabugogo Bus Station in Kigali, where buses to Kampala and to the Gatuna/ Katuna border point take passengers.

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A staff of Different, one of the bus companies, told The EastAfrican that the company had recorded an 80 percent increase in passengers since the lifting of the travel barriers.

In one of the buses from Kigali to the border, Thabitha Mujawamariya, an entrepreneur who used to trade in fruits and vegetables between Uganda and Rwanda before the border was closed, said she had moved her business to Kigali although it was not as profitable as before. She is planning to apply for a bank loan and resume her cross-border business.

Expensive to cross

“It is expensive to cross for now, but I hope it will get easy as it was before. By the time my business is ready to run, the guidelines will have been revised. I am travelling to Uganda today to inspect the markets there,” Mujawamariya said.

Mujawamariya shares optimism with residents around the Gatuna border, some of whom had closed businesses when the traffic died down in 2019.

At a small vendor marketplace just around the Gatuna border post, tables have been set and small restaurants are restocking to accommodate the increasing clientele. Mugwaneza Agnes was among the vendors, she was selling beans, one of the most produced crops in Gicumbi.

Ms Mugwaneza said travellers to and from Uganda prefer buying from her because it is cheaper compared to other markets.

As the border reopens, she “expects to make more money from both Ugandans and Rwandans passing by”.

Before the border was closed in 2019 due to political standoff between Uganda and Rwanda, Gicumbi district heavily depended on Uganda for flour and fish produce.

Farmers also sold the bulk of their beans production to Uganda. Since 2019, farmers and traders have resorted to other internal markets.

To ease the burden, the government built new infrastructure including a maize flour processing plant, secondary and TVET schools, and hospitals, among others.

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