Rwanda, like other countries across the world, imposed temporary border closures and travel restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.
With border closures, came difficulties for the private sector in the form of losses as they struggled to export or import goods (other than medical supplies).
Now that Rwanda has partially reopened the country's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) city of Goma, the first easing of land crossings since the beginning of the coronavirus, there is optimism among border communities about regaining the source of their livelihoods.
Small-scale traders will resume business on both sides of the border provided they have valid passports and follow health protocols, including rapid Covid-19 tests. The move follows a memorandum of understanding signed by officials from Rwanda's Western Province and DRC's North Kivu Province on Monday, November 2.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented crisis as the severe restrictions on cross-border movement motivated by public health reasons have had a significant impact on trade. On top of missed income opportunities caused by the freeze of productive activities, many small traders suffered economic losses from goods that have remained unsold.
Small-scale traders who spoke to Rwanda Today say a significant amount of services trade requires physical proximity between producers and consumers.
While the border closures prompted some members to devise innovative means to do business remotely, the business is not sustainable.
Some of the traders who attempted remote trade say they have accumulated bad debt as some customers refuse to pay in anticipation of the borders remaining closed. Moreover, face-to-face contacts allow the establishment of the business and social networks that can generate and boost trade.
Others are concerned about the relatively high costs associated with travel documents and Covid-19 tests given that most of them spent at least six months unemployed.
While stringent measures are still necessary, practical measures are required to facilitate and ease mobility because barriers significantly affect trade in goods, through their impact on transport services and on information and transaction costs.
Over the past six months, the government has improved its testing and contact tracing capabilities which should inspire confidence to reopen the economy. More importantly, it is important to fast-track the process of restarting economic activities without compromising personal safety.
Rwanda appears to have survived the worst health crisis so far largely due to the deliberate and incisive actions of the government, now is the time to reproduce the same efforts in reviving the economy.