TradeMark Africa (TMA) jointly with Busia County Government, the Ministry in charge of EAC Affairs and development partners, have today officially launched a safe space market that will benefit 160 women cross-border traders, who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The construction of the market started in July 2021 as part of the Safe Trade Emergency Facility (STEF) that TradeMark Africa implemented together with the County Government of Busia with funding from Canada, Ireland, the European Union, and Denmark.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, took a huge toll on international and local trade. Informal cross border traders, particularly women, were hard hit, with reports indicating closure of their businesses, or a drastic reduction in operations with income losses of over 90% due to stringent government-enforced restrictions of social distancing to reduce overcrowding and combat spread of the virus. The establishment of Safe Trade Zones as espoused in the STEF programme was an important step in helping traders, their customers, and local authorities to comply with COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing.

“Due to the significant risk posed by the global pandemic, difficult decisions had to be taken. Two options were considered: either shutting down non-compliant COVID-19 markets or implementing strict containment measures. Unfortunately, these measures resulted in the displacement of many women traders, leading to the loss of their livelihoods,” said Allen Asiimwe, TradeMark Africa’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, and Chief of Programmes.

Allen added: “Today, we are happy to witness many of these women are slowly getting back into business. They can operate safely and earn incomes in this market, which is spacious, compliant with the essential COVID-19 health protocols and has other important amenities such as sanitation zones, clean running water and a nursing mothers’ space to allow the new mothers to tend to their young ones comfortably without contending with major interruptions in their day-to-day operations.”

The Busia County Government offered the 1.5-acre piece of land on which the market stands. In his remarks, the Governor of Busia County, H.E. Dr. Paul Nyongesa Otwoma, observed that the project had already started improving the lot of the traders, hailing the initiative as a game changer in their livelihoods.

Without the support of our partners and the patience of the women traders, it would have been a huge challenge implementing such an important project. This provided the much-needed relief for women traders not only from the pandemic but also from the harsh vagaries of weather characterised with open markets, to continue trading safely to sustain their families,” H.E. Dr. Paul Otwoma said. He acknowledged the productive partnership with TradeMark Africa and development partners in supporting the livelihood enhancement projects in the county.

The Director General of the Pan-African Affairs Bureau, Global Affairs Canada, Ms. Susan Steffen, observed: “We are pleased to have supported the design and development of this model Safe Trade market, consisting not only of 160 stalls, but also a crèche facility to support women in their care responsibilities and the inclusion of women and Persons With Disabilities at this border. As you may be aware, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy puts women and girls at the centre of its international assistance programs. That is why supporting women cross-border traders at this border and several others across the region comes as a natural fit for us, to enhance inclusive trade, and in supporting the priorities of the East African Community (EAC) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”

In her remarks, Ambassador of Ireland to Kenya Fionnuala Quinlan, said: “This is a great example of what Public Private Sector partnership, with development partners’ support, can do in enabling marginalised groups such as informal cross border women traders to safeguard their livelihoods in a modern, clean, hygienic market. Together, we can do more to support these traders so that they can have consistent incomes and uplift their livelihoods and those of their families. Ireland is proud to support our collective work on gender equality, particularly in strengthening the role that women play in the Kenyan economy.

Danish Embassy (Nairobi) Trade Counsellor and TradeMark Africa Council of donors Chair, Mogens Larsen, noted: “Our support for trade facilitation work, not least in the empowerment of women cross border traders, is one of the primary pillars in alleviating poverty and fostering sustainable development in Africa. This safe space market in Busia is one of the many avenues through which we are proud to advance the support for marginalised groups and helping them trade in organised and hygienic markets. In TMA’s Strategy 3, we shall sustain work in this area of inclusive trade, while enhancing other areas of green growth and digitalisation.”

The County Commissioner, Kipchumba Ruto noted that Soko Posta Safe Market will go a long way in improving livelihoods of the traders, adding that there are still more opportunities in supporting more such markets across the region.

Director, EAC State Department, Dr. Juma Wakhungu, said; “Our development partners have been key players in supporting government and private sectors’ efforts to ensure that trade continues in a safe and health-conscious environment more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has helped traders, particularly the informal smallholder women engaged in cross border trader to continue operating resiliently in a tough environment and sustain their livelihoods.”

The beneficiary women traders, through their chairperson Ms. Florence Atieno, expressed appreciation for the market, maintaining that it would go a long way in improving their wellbeing. To entrench the adherence to COVID-19 mitigation measures, TMA jointly with AMREF Health Africa, trained the traders and equipped them with personal protective equipment.

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