One Stop Border Posts transforming Cross border trade and lives

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To a newcomer using a One Stop Border Posts (OSBP) at one of East Africa’s border crossing points where TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) has worked; the OSBP buildings strike a breathtaking view of modern infrastructure. They magnificently display an artistic presence in the rural remote areas, where most border crossings are, often set against the backdrop of low roofed housing, plains and at times hills.  To the frequent users of OSBPs, these infrastructures are more than just brick and mortar. They represent safety, ease of doing business, and savings of money and time.

Truck drivers, importers and exporters, clearing and forwarding agents, cross-border traders are among the many people whose livelihoods are affected by border crossing processes. For a long time, and perhaps since the advent of formal border crossing in East Africa, frequent border users contended with chaotic borders, high costs and delays emanating from inefficient border processes.

Part of the problem was infrastructural, the other human. The old border posts lacked important facilities such as reliable power, internet, avenues for efficient information sharing among border authorities, and enough space for day-to-day activities. This resulted to back log of clearance and hence congestion. Inspection sheds were too small and could accommodate only one or two trucks at a go with tens and in some cases, hundreds of others in queue. Traders had to undertake multiple paperwork, physically moving from one office to the next, often many metres apart. In many cases drivers endured weeks of clearance. Because, when the tropic sun set, the border crossed; today however, some of the processes are undertaken on a 24 hour basis.

From the human aspect, border users and border officials treated each other with suspicion leading to tension; perhaps made worse by fatigue and frustration with duplicated processes and delays.  Limited access and understanding of trade information by the traders, caused them agitation that is synonymous with ignorance. This led to strained relationships, resulting to many traders, especially women, using illegal routes.

In the spirit of integration, TMEA, with funding from United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFiD) and Canada International Development Agency (CIDA) set out to make crossing the border faster by bringing order and better coordination at border crossing points. They have so far supported construction and operationalisation of 13 one stop border posts (OSBPs) which include 4 in Tanzania: Holili, Mutukula, Kabanga and Tunduma. An OSBP simplifies controls at borders, by enabling a one-time joint check conducted on one side; in the country of destination, by border officials of the two neighboring countries. In an OSBP, a user stops only once, in the country of destination.

We visited all the 4 OSBP’s in Tanzania, to hear firsthand, the changes users experience as well as some of the emerging opportunities. OSBPs have facilitated faster movement of goods, persons and services. For instance, a 2016 time, traffic and user satisfaction survey for Holili border post recorded a border crossing time reduction of 90% (from 22 hours in 2011 to 2 hours in 2016) for trucks, and 89% for containerized cargo (from 27 hours in 2011 to 2 hours in 2016. Similar impressive efficiency improvements have been observed in similar surveys in Mutukula and Kabanga OSBPs.

Border authorities attest to the benefits; including meeting their revenue targets, less strenuous work conditions and better clearance volumes. David Deusdedit, the Assistant Custom Officer at Holili OSBP says; “Before the OSBP, our collection was as low as between TZS 1 to 2 billion per year because of smuggling. But we now collect between TZS 3 to 4 billion per year because of the OSBP’s efficiency,” he says, adding that thanks to the OSBP, clearance of customers now takes an average of just five minutes. John Mwinyala, TFDA official working at Mutukula border says, it now takes only about five (5) minutes for a traders’ documents to go through five (5) different offices.

Yusuphu Chacha, a Mwanza-based entrepreneur who frequently uses the Mutukula border affirms this. He says, “before the OSPBs were constructed, you would spend 2 to 3 hours at the border. Now, if all your documents are in order, you would spend only about a half hour for inspection, after which you’ll receive your tax estimates, pay and be on your way without any delays.”

Edwin Lasti, truck driver who uses the Holili route recalls the old days when he spent a month at the border, waiting for clearance processes to be completed. “Now because of the OSBP, you can get cleared within a day”, he says. He remarks that in places where there are no OSBP’s, the costs incurred by drivers are phenomenal as they have to cater for accommodation and other upkeep.

Tanzania's Mutukula OSBP

Custom officers at Tanzania’s Mutukula OSBP attend to women traders. On the shelf, in front of the custom officer, are products that the woman trader is carrying. To ensure benefits of OSBP are felt by cross section of stakeholders, TMEA partnered with Tanzania Women Chambers of Commerce (TWCC) to train women cross-border traders on trade regimes that govern cross border trade, standards and requirements to improve compliance. As a result and increasingly, women traders confidently use legal routes.

Double pronged approach to ensure small scale traders benefit

The OSPBs have been transformational to small scale traders, especially women doing cross border trade. In one hand capacity building of border officials have improved customer service, therefore breeding cordial relationships with the traders. On the other hand, training the traders on various trade regimes, standards and requirement of cross border trade, have improved compliance with traders now confident to use legal routes; therefore, minimizing conflict with border officials.

In Tanzania and as part of ensuring a cross-section of stakeholders benefited from OSBP’s, TMEA partnered with Tanzania Women Chambers of Commerce (TWCC) to train women cross-border traders on various trade regimes that govern cross border trade, standards and requirements to improve compliance.

Agatha Mushi, 57, a trader at Taveta/Holili the border between Kenya and Tanzania, recalls of the times she had to illegally cross over to Kenya to do business. “I had to carry a baby on my back, pretending to be a Kamba woman from Kenya. Kenyan immigration officials sympathised with me, knowing that I was returning home, but I was crossing the border for business, my luggage having already been smuggled in,” she says.

Ms. Filipina had given up trading wheat across the border more than a decade ago; owing to what she considered bureaucratic processes. However, the efficiency at the border, coupled with knowledge from training encouraged her to re-start her business. “Thanks to the Holili OSBP and the knowledge obtained through workshops and training organised by TWCC, I have been encouraged to restart my cross-border trade despite my age and other domestic commitments.” Filipina is part of a group of women processing roselle and bananas for export through the Holili border.

Tanzania's Mutukula OSBP

Ms. Filipina Mushi, right, preparing roselle for wine making together with other women in their business group.

Petro Paul Israel, who works with the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) at Holili OSBP has participated in training the women traders and encouraging them to use formal routes. He notes that following due process prevents harassment by border officials – something the border posts have been accused of in the past, and the reason why most small-scale traders used illegal routes. TFDA is Tanzania’s primary organisation for issuance of licenses to businesses trading products related to food, drugs, cosmetics and medical services. As a border authority, TFDA is keen to combat entry of substandard or counterfeit products. Many cross-border women traders import food and cosmetics, making TFDA one of their key stakeholder.

OSBPs aid cross border trade at the grass-roots

Illegal trade routes exposed women traders to various risks; including sexual harassment, arrest, confiscation of products and loss of goods to conmen. Nizetha Mushi, 48, a member of an unregistered women traders group named Luwarane Group, recounts various arrests she suffered as a result of using illegal routes, prior to the OSBP.  “I did not know that crossing the border legally was much safer and easier than doing so in a clandestine manner,” she says.

Despite the many risks the women traders were exposed to, a lot of them persisted. Ignorance erroneously guided them to believe that formal crossing was cumbersome and costly.

TFDA’s Petro Paul Israel notes an important fact, previously unknown to the women, products which have certificates of origin from East African Community member countries can cross the border free of charge; so do products worth less than US$ 2000. “This is a great advantage to small-traders with small capital. Customs officers even fill out the transit forms for them at no charge, so all they have to pay is a small amount for duties,” Israel adds. This improved customer service at border posts have been instrumental in restoring the women traders’ trust in the formal process for doing cross-border trade.

Without a doubt, benefits of OSBPs are evident in the lives of border communities and users including border authorities, truck drivers, owners, clearing and forwarding agents and women cross-border traders.

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