Uganda’s exports to Rwanda returning to pre-border row  

Trade between Rwanda and Uganda is slowing returning to pre-border closure. Photo / File 

What you need to know:

  • Before Rwanda closed its border with Uganda, exports from Uganda were earning an annual average of $211m 

Uganda’s exports to Rwanda are slowly returning to pre-border closure, according to data from Bank of Uganda. 

The Rwanda-Uganda border was reopened in March last year, with trade between the two neighbouring countries retuning, albeit, slowly. 

Before the border closure, Uganda’s exports to Rwanda, which are dominated by cement and assorted food stuffs, stood at an annual average of $211m (Shs812b) and a monthly average of $17m (Shs62.2b), according to World Bank. 

However, in the early months of the closure, exports had dropped to just $60,000 (Shs230m) in July 2019. 

Bank of Uganda indicates that exports to Rwanda grew by $44.9m (Shs164.5b) to $60.55m Shs243.8b) during the 2022 fourth quarter from $15.64m (Shs57.3b) in the nine months to September. 

Data further indicates that exports, which had stagnated to a monthly return of $1.73m (Shs6.3b) between January and September 2022, grew to a monthly average of $20m (73.2b) between October and December.  

Details published in the East African Cross Border Trade Bulletin by Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, indicate that Rwanda breweries imported 3,991 tonnes of sorghum and 2,065 tonnes of maize from Uganda, while 2,866 tonnes of rice were imported from Tanzania.

However, small scale cross-border traders - who had dominated informal trade for long - say they are yet to fully benefit.  Previously, most of the informal trade at the Gatuna-Katuna border was in foodstuff such as maize flour, rice, Irish potatoes and beans. 

Traders now say Rwanda authorities require permits and licences for them to export to the country.  

Larger exporters remain cagey. Mr Kanakulya Mulondo, the secretary for security, environment and mediation at Kampala City Traders Association, recently said traders remain skeptical “because our push to be compensated for losses when the border was closed in 2019 fell on deaf ears”.

Other exports to Rwanda from Uganda include steel and roofing materials and personal care products, among others.  

Kampala City Traders Association had previously sued Rwanda at the East African Court of Justice for unfair closure of the border with court agreeing that Rwanda had violated some provisions of the East African Treaty that allow free movement of persons, goods and services across member states.

Mr Fred Muhumuza, an economist and lecturer at Makerere University, attributed the growth during the period to lower harvests in Rwanda that necessitated food imports.

“The importer ... has to import a lot of food to restock. In future, we might see export levels reduce,” he said. 

Ugandan traders have, with support from government, sought to get new markets outside the “unpredictable” East Africa region. 

For instance, personal care maker and milk manufacturer Movit and Lato, respectively, have in the last three years found new markets in as far as Zambia after encountering blockades in both Kenya and Rwanda. 


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