Rwandan consumers and traders are upbeat about the return of Ugandan goods on the market more than three years after a political and trade feud led to closure of the border between the two neighbouring countries.
Six months after the border was reopened in March, a wide range of Ugandan goods have returned to the Rwandan market, giving renewed competition to local goods that had replaced them.
Umwiza Odette, a general merchandise seller, says her customers are excited about the return of the goods, and that many have resumed buying them even if they have returned at a higher price.
“Many customers that used to buy Ugandan goods are back to asking for them, only that the quantities supplied are still low and prices high,” she said.
A tin of Movit petroleum jelly that used to be sold at Rwf1000 now goes for Rwf2500. A carton of Highland milk now goes for Rwf19,000 from Rwf13,000. Odette says Ugandan goods have not completely outcompeted locally made goods that came in to fill the gap when the border closed.
“Although Ugandan goods have been embraced on their return, the local goods that had replaced them are also being bought,” said Umwiza.
Some Rwandan manufacturers tried to imitate some of the most coveted Ugandan goods, even branding them similar to the products they were replacing.For instance a local company started making petroleum jelly and branded it Movita, imitating Ugandan Movit.
Some yet to return
Local maize milling companies also brought in maize flour products like Kasumba to replace coveted Ugandan maize flour products like Nateete and Maganjo. Habert Kamali, a contractor, notes that Ugandan cement is yet to return into the market.
"We still use Rwandan cement products like Comerwa and Prime and Tanzanian imports like Twiga. The re-entry of Ugandan cement products would help lower prices on the market since Uganda is nearer but none has yet come in,” he noted.
Food and cement
Before the closure, Ugandan exports to Rwanda – predominantly cement and food – totaled more than $211M in 2018, according to World Bank figures, while Rwanda exported $13m worth of goods to Uganda.
Although Uganda’s exports to Rwanda are showing signs of rebound, it will take time for all products to be let in as Rwanda becomes more keen on which goods come in, the quality and quantities.
Latest Bank of Uganda records indicate that the country exported goods worth $5.22 million to Rwanda in July compared to the $17 million monthly receipts before the border closure.
Kigali-bound trucks can be seen snaking through the Kampala-Kigali road as transporters also begin the road to recovery.
New modern cargo-handling infrastructure in place have also eased the process at both ends of the border, saving time for traders.