Costs of travel documents and Covid-19 testing are undermining cross-border trade between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo even after the recent partial opening of the Gisenyi- Goma border.
Currently, travellers are required to have passports or travel permits (laissez-passer) and have to undergo paid Covid-19 test. This is turning out to be hard for border communities whose livelihoods still largely depend on free movement between the two countries.
As per the new rules, a traveler would incur between Rwf70,000 and Rwf150,000 for both the cost of travel documents, and test fees applicable every two weeks.
“...There is a need to consider the limited financial capabilities of ordinary cross-border traders and families who need their children to keep in schools. We wonder how many are going to afford the combined cost of the passport, and testing every two weeks,” said Juliette Mutuyimana, one of many cross border traders.
However, access has been granted to those travelling for commercial activities, students, teachers and those travelling on medical grounds who are subjected to strict health rules.
Usual movements at the border with daily traffic estimated at over 50,000 people are dominated by small scale traders and routine travels by students on either side using their national IDs.
Rwanda Today has learnt border communities are lobbying for the other border points to be open as traders who have attempted to have contactless transactions with clients across the border say they have incurred losses after most clients defaulted.
“It has killed the market for everyone... There is nothing you can do about it since you can’t travel there,” said Jean Pierre Habiyaremye, head of Kamembe meat traders’ cooperative. “If borders open, most will rush there to seek authorities’ interventions to get our money.”
Border communities rank among those who may take long to recover from the impact of the pandemic, which has weighed down trade between the Rwanda and DR Congo from a rise that had seen the latter become Rwanda’s largest cross-border trade partner with exchange valued at about $130 million since 2018 as per the trade ministry data.
Cross-border movements between the two countries continued to suffer ephemeral effects of potential transmission risk of disease outbreak such as the Ebola before Covid-19 struck in March this year.