Formalising Informal Trade: A Modern Cross-Border Market under Construction in Busia

The Busia border is strategically located along the Northern Corridor and serves as a gateway into other parts of eastern and central Africa. By road, it is approximately 431km west of Nairobi, Kenya, and 196km east of Kampala, Uganda. Owing to the significance of this town, the Government of Kenya under the Ministry of East African Community (EAC), in partnership with TradeMark East Africa, has committed 1.4 billion Kenyan shillings for the construction of Jumuiya Market at the Busia border with the ambition of boosting cross-border trade.     The new market will be constructed adjacent to the One-Stop Border Post on a 40-acre piece of land at Marachi Estate. The land has been donated by the County Government of Busia. The market is set to improve the livelihood of small-scale traders, many of whom are women doing business along the border. The project will also provide traders from neighbouring countries, such as Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Kenya participate in cross-border trade under the EAC Common Market Protocol. The purpose of setting up this market is to bring the informal trade sector into the formal sector and enhance revenue collection by improving the cross-border trading environment.     The market is also expected to revamp the economy of the border town and become a game-changer for small-scale traders who, for a long time, have been negatively regarded by local government officials as hawkers and smugglers. However, whilst these traders may be considered as smugglers, the traders’ perspective is that they cross the border through informal routes so that they do not have to pay government levies which they believe, sometimes erroneously, to be very high and unaffordable. Some of these traders are optimistic that the new market will open up new business opportunities for them, especially after the huge losses they have incurred since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic that led to border closure and curfew, and the Busia border quite limited.     It is also hoped that this market will support the local government of Busia whose revenue collection will increase, thus narrowing the gap of its budget deficit that persisted over several financial years. It is hoped that the county will be able to improve its road network, drill and supply clean water, increase its trade revolving funds/budget to enable traders to access loans with low interest, and provide better health facilities in Busia.     The idea behind the market’s construction aligns well with the vision of the African Union Border Programme: an “integrated Africa with peaceful, open and prosperous borders”. It will also help achieve the two government’s stated objective of empowering the communities straddled along the Kenya-Uganda border to trade safely, legally and profitably.



Gaudenciah Wanyama
Author, Life & Peace Institute