Small-scale traders at the Taveta border town have hailed the renewed cordial relations between Kenya and Tanzania following the elimination of some of the barriers that hindered the smooth flow of trade between the two East African nations.
The traders’ endorsement comes barely months after President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Tanzanian counterpart Samia Suluhu pledged to ease trade relations between the two nations.
Mistrust and hostility between traders in the past coupled with restrictions on freedom of movement took a heavy toll on business at the border, adversely affecting trade.
Speaking to KNA on Monday, a trader in Taveta town Ms. Mary Mshai Riga said there has been a significant improvement on her gas business since the two leaders held talks.
“I have seen a big growth in my business. I sell gas and Tanzania residents refill their cylinders here. They also bring foodstuffs and second-hand clothes at good prices. We are trading easily now,” she said.
She expressed optimism that free trade at the border would continue to build lasting peace and improve the economic status of the town.
Positive impact is also being felt in the education sector. Ms. Rachel Wairimu, the Director, Brighter of Days Academy, a private school in Taveta town, said learning has attracted learners from across the border.
“This school’s top performer in the last KCPE exams was from Tanzania and she was selected to join Alliance Girls High School. We have seen things ease up so that parents from Tanzania are free to bring their children to study here. School owners also get foodstuffs from Tanzania,” she said.
The bilateral talks led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and visiting Tanzania President Suluhu held in May this year sought to address the challenges affecting trade and investments between the two countries. Both leaders vowed to address the issues for the benefit of the people.
There have been several attempts to ease the border restrictions to allow small-scale traders from both countries to trade freely.
One of the major efforts by both governments was to establish Taveta-Holili One Stop Border Post to streamline the processing of trade documents to avoid long delays that were cited as major impediment to free trade.
The customs rules were also relaxed to allow artisanal traders from Tanzania to cross over to Kenya to sell their produce at Taveta Open air market during the market days.
However, effects of the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and the frosty relations between Kenya and Tanzania hampered trading especially after the border was closed to avoid spread of the virus.
A tomato farmer in Taveta Mr. Bernard Elai said Tanzanian authorities became hostile to Kenyan traders after the closure of the border. He said Kenyan traders would give their produce to their counterparts in Tanzania for selling.
“Tanzania traders would sell our goods and give us money. It was a difficult time trading,” he explained.
However, the co-operation established after the visit by the Tanzania president is making the traders look up to the future with optimism.
Taveta Deputy County Commissioner Joseph Mericho said that though the border was not open, a robust trade was going on at Taveta market. He disclosed that Tanzania traders gave their produce to their Kenyan counterparts for selling at Taveta market.
“The traders relate well. Tanzania traders will give Kenyans their goods to sell and later get the money. Kenyans also do the same with Tanzania traders for products like oil,” he said.
Most traders also are optimistic that with Tanzania actively engaged in fighting of Covid-19, the two governments would agree on modalities of gradually opening the borders to allow controlled trading.
“We are now hoping the government can allow small traders to cross over to do their business,” said Elai.
Data from Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) in the latest Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) report indicates that the value of goods coming in from Tanzania including cereals, wood and vegetables hit a high of Sh18.29 billion.
By Raphew F. Mukuyia