Traders in Nimule and Elegu say coronavirus-related restrictions have hugely affected their businesses at the two border towns.
Informal businesses run particularly by women across the South Sudan-Uganda borders have been worst hit with many of them losing their stock.
Millions of money have also been lost while some women have reportedly been assaulted and some lost their lives.
Yemima Semira Erisama, the Nimule Cross Border Women Traders Association chairperson explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the death of traders, rape cases, assault, and unprecedented business losses at the border.
“Nimule Women Traders depend on the Elegu side for goods supply. But since the Covid-19 pandemic came, we are not able to cross from Nimule to Elegu,” Yemima Semira said.
“Some of the women had no choice but to engage in smuggling and illegal crossovers via bushes and rivers through areas like Anyama. So far 12 people have died and we have also recorded several rape cases and pregnancies as a result of rape during this lockdown.”
Uganda is implementing strict Covid-19 preventive measures. The country initially closed all its borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.
But after the borders were reported late last year, travelers are now expected to carry Covid-19 negative test results to cross.
Tests are done at 75 US dollars in Juba. Traders say they cannot afford the charge.
“To cross to Uganda, you must have a Covid-19 certificate. The Covid-19 tests are very expensive and our people can’t afford them. Our Ugandan counterparts have received free personal protective equipment but we in South Sudan are yet to get it,” Semira added.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of Elegu Women Cross Border Traders and SACCO, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the border traders badly.
Margaret Auma said Elegu women informal traders have already lost over 100 million Ugandan shillings during this period.
“Initially, we would be traveling with our goods across South Sudan. But now, we have to load them on a truck here and the truck delivers them to the customers that placed orders on the other side. The cost of transportation has gone up; these items including perishable goods sometimes delay to reach the market,” Auma explained.
“When these goods reach there, some receivers tend to deceive us by saying they didn’t receive their goods. Some take longer to send money or don’t send at all, knowing very well that we can’t cross the border to demand our payments,” she added.
On his part, John Bosco Kalisa, the country representative for Trademark EA, South Sudan program noted that the Safe Trade protocols apply to border markets that are either open or closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Safe Trade Zones protocol launched together with Amref is set to benefit over 2000 informal traders at the South Sudan/Uganda border alone. Most of the beneficiaries will be women as they are the majority in border markets,” Mr. Kalisa said.
He added: “We also already have personal protective equipment for the Nimule traders and frontline staff. Elegu has already received its consignment and distribution in Nimule will happen sometime in January. In all, we are ensuring Trade continues but in a safe way because this pandemic is still here.”
According to the East African Business Council, 56 percent of businesses have been affected by cross border restrictions since the pandemic hit the East African region.
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