Informal Cross-Border Trade (ICBT) throughout the EAC makes up a significant part of the trade conducted within the region and neighbouring countries – 80% of those participating are women. ICBT refers to traders operating entirely outside of the formal economy, or registered traders partially or completely evading trade-related regulations and duties

Some of the primary causes and effects of this are:

  • A lack of knowledge on formal trading procedures and processes;
  • Fear of exploitation by agents or officials;
  • Harassment;
  • Weak organisation and fragmentation;
  • Poor returns;
  • Commercial exploitation;
  • Sexual and physical violence;
  • Limited access to services and policy space


Cross-border structures fail many of the involved stakeholders: from the women who operate under conditions of fear and exploitation; to the national revenue authorities who lose legitimate levies; to those bona fide custodians of the border who are smeared by the accusation of abuse.


  • Increasing and simplifying knowledge
    • For women on formal trading procedures and business development skills;
    • On gender sensitisation for Customs and Migration officers;
    • Inclusion of women on the joint border committees;
    • For the wider community on Customs Union (CU) and Common Market (CM)
  • Improving access and skills:
    • Facilitating women CBTs to form associations and networks;
    • Improved business skills;
    • Opportunities increased for WICBT with access to finance


Piloting Innovative Ideas Changes Traders’ Lives

East African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) co-operated with the Ugandan Revenue Authority within EASSI’s Resource Centres to create a registered customs clearing agent (for example, at the Matukula border post). This operator is a trusted colleague of most of the women CBTs, benefiting from an established relationship; he can also offer clearing services at a reduced cost to CBTs without the fear of exploitation.

“The project empowered me to know my rights as a trader. I now have access to business information
which was very limited before EASSI started the project to support women traders at Busia border. I
now cross with my goods freely and no longer use panya routes (short cuts).” – Feedback from a Cross-Border Trader

“I used to fear police and used short cuts (panya routes) to cross my goods from Uganda to Kenya. We
now know our rights as women traders. The trainings helped us so much that I even support and
encourage other women to use the main gate to avoid being arrested by police or harassed and
cheated by the middlemen.” – Feedback from a Cross-Border Trader

Increased Opportunity and Security

TMEA support in Rwanda has resulted in the establishment of 9 co-operatives across 5 districts with over 400 members – each with a 50-100% increase in monthly income.

Co-operatives provide greater security, thus making financial institutions more willing to provide loans to the body or individuals who have opportunity to grow existing or new business.

“EASSI linked me to Women Cross Border Traders at other border points like Mutukula and Busia. I have been able to network and trade with Mariam Babu in Afia juice which is a favourite in Rwanda. She sends me 30 cartons by bus which are sold within two days and I make a net profit of UGX 60,000 after paying her off through mobile money. This partnership has not only brought in extra income but also diversified my business. I am in the process of increasing the volume of trade in Afia juice but also explore other tradable goods at both border points.” – Feedback from a Cross-border Trader

Increased access to finance supports women to grow operations, incomes and increase their social standing. Additional outcomes are also achieved:

  • Because informal and “panya” routes are not used, there is a reduction in gender-based violence aimed at traders;
  • Increased relationships with financiers allow previously untapped markets and clients greater access to safe credit;
  • Thanks to increased domestic incomes, families can better support themselves and better engage with education for their children;
  • As clearing agents now deal with larger volume consignments, border staff can concentrate on more pertinent activities such as facilitating and helping smaller-volume traders