A push for women cross-border trade in West Africa

The Nigeria chapter of the New Faces New Voices (NFNV), an initiative of the Graca Machel Trust, in partnership with the United Parcel Service, the US-headquartered global logistics company, has commenced the implementation of the second of NFNV Nigeria’s “Raising Voices for Cross Border Traders in West Africa” project.
ADAM ALQALI writes

The implementation began with a two-day regional roundtable with stakeholders on women cross border trade in Dakar, Senegal last week.
The stakeholders’ forum brought together key players in women cross border trade from across West Africa and ended with the formation of the West African Cross-border Women Traders Association, aimed at formalizing and institutionalizing cross-border trade in the sub region.
“What this project wants to achieve with the growing numbers of players in cross border trade after the successful completion of the first phase is to: first establish a WCBT association with policy and legal framework to guide its activities and have a strong body and voice,” says Aishatu Debola Aminu, while welcoming delegates at the roundtable.
“Two, develop a high level advocacy tool for presentation to the ECOWAS Heads of States and Governments on the need to formally mainstream women cross border traders (WBCT) into the economies of the sub-region.
We want to continue to advocate for seats at the ECOWAS ministerial meetings and other meetings where discussions and are taken that affect us.” New Faces New Voices Nigeria had in 2014 successfully implemented the first phase of the Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project with the support of UK Department for International Development’s Supporting West Africa’s Regional Integration Program (SWARIP) implemented across five ECOWAS member states of Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia.
Aminu said whereas the first phase of the project focused mainly on Anglophone West Africa the second phase will be focusing largely on francophone West Africa adding that although women played a particularly significant role in cross border trade (CBT) in West Africa, they were facing a lot of challenges to do with access to finance and security because they were yet to be formally integrated into the process.
While proving a strategy and policy framework for the proposed women cross border trade association in West Africa, John Odubele, a leadership consultant said the world had become a global village hence the increased levels of competition in the business world, and thus the need for women cross border traders in West Africa to become organized into an association, to be able to effectively deal with the competition.
“Alibaba and Amazon are threatening your business; you have to rise to the challenge of technology.
As a network of formal and informal women cross border traders, your association should be able to mobilise members at the grassroots; be self-sustaining with the ability capacitate membership and self-fund programs,” said Odubele.
Moreover, DS Paradang, retired comptroller-general of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), in his paper on the legal framework for WBCT association said: “The conception of border has been changing due to the impact of globalization; globalisation and particularly information technology has been massively affecting all spheres of human endeavors, particularly trade.
However, countries still retain laws to ensure sovereignty defence and build their economies for the welfare of their citizens.” While giving an overview of the NFNV-WCBT project, Korkor Cudjue, women rights programme manager at the Graca Machel Trust said: “Building networks requires a foundation of self-sustainability.
Mama Machel’s vision is ‘One is too small a number to achieve greatness.’ To achieve this we need to build a movement – we need advocates who will be messengers to women who are not here.” Cudjoe, therefore said under the NFNV-WBCT project, NFNV would be helping clusters of women cross border traders who work across different products to add value to their products adding that each cluster of women working on a specific product will be mentored by an individual woman with expertise on the particular product.
“During the first year of the project, we will identify viable products and markets to produce and market; we will then pilot a train-the-trainer model for 30 women who will subsequently train and mentor women cross border traders over a period of 9 months.
We will then replicate the model in two other countries of the region during the second year and then conduct a Pan African expo to strengthen trade linkages and access new markets.” Speaking on the role of women in CBT in attaining economic growth, Appiah Adomako of CUTS International, a global nonprofit focused on consumer protection, trade and development said: “Women informal cross border traders make an important contribution to economic growth and government revenues.
But by ignoring women’s informal trading activities, African countries are neglecting a significant proportion of their trade.” Adomako thus called for immediate priority to be giving for improving conditions at borders and the treatment of cross-borders traders at border posts which he said will have a significant impact on the livelihoods of a substantial number of women cross border traders and the households who depend on the income from generated by WCBT in the course of their trade.
“There is need to provide and implement policy frameworks by which traders can become increasingly organized and backed up by support services that improve access to information, facilitate access to credit, and ensure better representation of traders’ interests.
There is need to bridge information gaps for the benefits to formalization of trade especially for women cross border traders and not only to be seen as revenue loss sector by the governments,” he added.
Binta Ibrahim, the coordinator of NFNV in north central Nigeria while providing an evaluation for WBCT in West Africa said agencies monitoring informal cross-border trade (ICBT) in the region were focused mainly on goods passing through unofficial trade routes adding that there was a “very minimal investment” in data collection for ICBT in the ECOWAS region.
“There is very minimal investment in the collection of ICBT in the ECOWAS region except for Ghana and Liberia.
ICBT data is collected through various methods: border observation or monitoring, tracking and stock taking techniques.
Therefore, we need to find a way to gather data to monitor relevant information towards achieving our objective,” she said.
Ibrahim as such urged for the need to ensure information was collected on informal cross border trade “with all people-level variables disaggregated by gender in order to capture women and men ICBTs’ contribution to economic development and to inform policymakers about the activities and challenges of this subsector.” Khadi Cisse, a successful Senegalese cross border trader said members of her network were initially trading in Europe and America before they realised it was more profitable trading across Africa.
She however decried the challenges to do with insecurity associated with travels across Africa including lack of access to finance, lack of marketing skills, sexual harassment and intimidation by security officials at border posts.
While also sharing her story on CBT, Mamyna Gueye, a member of FDS, a network of young female entrepreneurs in Senegal said they were facing serious challenges to do with transporting their goods across land borders, including poor road network which means unnecessary delay as well as sexual harassment by customs and police officials at border posts across the sub-region.
The highpoint of the 2-day roundtable was the composition of a caretaker committee for the newly founded West African Cross-border Women Traders Association whose French acronym is AFOACT.
The regional CBT association is to be led by the Nigeria country director of NFNV, Aishatu Debola Aminu, as caretaker president.

 

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