WASHINGTON—The Great Lakes Trade Facilitation Project is working to address the daily hazards of forced bribes or harassment faced by small traders — often women — in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
The project aims to clear logistical and administrative logjams at cross-border trading, reduce corruption and the harassment of traders, boost the local economy and alleviate poverty.
The Great Lakes Trade Facilitation Project is an initiative launched by the World Bank and is implemented in cooperation with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). The project will benefit COMESA through implementing regulations and procedures for the treatment of small-scale border traders, such as a toll-free complaint hotline, simplified immigration and health-related procedures, streamlined access to airfreight and duty-free entry for eligible goods.
The project includes two phases. It starts with grants and credits totaling $79 million for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, and continues with $61 million for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia.
In order to physically and logistically improve customs and border facilities, The Great Lakes Trade Facilitation Project will reform policies and build capacity.
For example, the project will offer funding for building shelters for traders waiting at the border, build automated turnstiles to facilitate speedier passage through the border and less physical contact with border officials, provide gender sensitivity training for border officials and require that female officials conduct inspections of female traders.
By improving cross-border trading, this project benefits both the border security and the local economy. “Trade generates solidarity between communities and improves livelihoods, which in turn reduces the likelihood of conflict,” said Shiho Nagaki, a fellow Team Leader, in a World Bank article on the project.
Years of conflict surrounding the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which encompasses countries bordering on Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, Victoria, Tangayika and Nyasa, aggravated extreme poverty and displaced millions of people.
By protecting traders, the project will benefit governments by generating more revenue and will help to alleviate poverty in the region.
Most of the crossing-border trade is on a small scale, usually involving individual traders on foot, and most of them trading in agricultural products. Improving circumstances for these traders can benefit some of the poorest and most vulnerable groups in the region. Through reducing the potential conflicts on the border, the project also offers a chance for developing the local economy.
The project includes developing regional markets near to border crossings so pedestrian traders can quickly sell their goods and increase their round trips per day, which increases income for poor families.
“The Great Lakes Trade Facilitation initiative is about unlocking the economic potential of small traders who are a vital part of a growing regional economy,” said COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya in the World Bank article.
“Ultimately, we’d like to see an increase in the daily volume of trade, rising profits and revenues for traders, and better revenue generation and control for governments,” said Charles Kunaka, the World Bank’s co-Team Leader of the project.