In Africa, particularly across the Nile, bartering was the initial means of trade in ancient times.
Although ancient Egypt, for example, was a country rich in many natural resources it was not self-sufficient and had to rely on trade for necessary goods and luxuries from other countries, including neighbours such as Sudan, according to scholar Joshua J. Mark. Across the Nile people traded ivory, gold, copper, agricultural products, livestock and others.
Today, the rest of Nile Basin countries, with a population of nearly 500 million, according to the Nile Basin Initiative, relate and trade among themselves. It is one of the main connectors of people in this region.
From food to hardware
Henry Mayende, a Ugandan businessman, deals in electronics, mainly cameras and office equipment. Although he sometimes imports from other countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or China, he says buying goods from Nile Basin country Kenya is easier.
“I just don’t have to incur long-distance travel expenses and I don’t pay for a visa. This way increases my profits,” he says. Kenya is located across the Indian ocean and thus easily imports goods from afar.
Mayende has been in this business for 10 years. And with modern technology, he sometimes sends money to his partners in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, via Mpesa, who in turn sends him his orders.
Ismail Sebikali, a Ugandan businessman deals in hardware. He buys hardware from Uganda and sells it in South Sudan, crossing the River Nile twice – in Uganda at Karuma Falls and then in Juba at the Juba bridge. He sometimes also sells his goods in the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo.
“I have been in this business for about five years and I will keep doing so. For now, South Sudan is like my second country,” he says.
Congolese trader Ethien Mundeke trades in general merchandise including home items, food and beverages, which he buys from the Ugandan capital, Kampala and then transports it to DR Congo’s Bunia region. He says the common culture such as foods and languages make his work even easier.
A common language in a second home
“Even when I don’t understand their native language”, says Mindeke, “I speak in Swahili and most people in the region understand”.
I feel at home when I am in Kampala, just like when I am in Kigali.”
Jean Marie Hakiza, a Rwandan businessman who also exports goods to DR Congo agrees with Mundeke. “I feel at home when I am in Kampala, just like when I am in Kigali,” he says.
But Hazika quickly points out the challenges. “The main challenge is that there are some corrupt officials along the road who ask for more money on weighbridges.”
But he also says his business is affected by the constant dollar price fluctuations; this sometimes cuts into his profits.
Hazika also wonders why neighbours who share a border have to pay for a visa. Travellers from Uganda or DR Congo have to part with US$ 50 for a single-entry visa. The same is true for Ugandans or South Sudanese travelling across each nation.
Citizens of East African Countries Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda on the other hand, do not have a visa requirement.
Christopher Mulindwa, who deals in animal products and pigs, says he usually sells animal feed and piglets to traders in other Nile Basin countries, especially Kenya and Rwanda.
“What I like about dealing with these businessmen is that they prefer quantity and will thus be willing to pay a better fee,” Mulindwa says.
Intra-regional trade still minimal
However, Maganda Julius Wandera, Uganda’s Minister for East African Affairs says intra-regional trade in the Nile basin is still at its minimum and informal.
For example, he says Kenya and Rwanda experience a deficit of agricultural products of 400,000 metric tonnes and 150,000 metric tonnes in maize respectively, while Uganda has a surplus of 137,000 metric tonnes per year.
Minister Wandera says the region has acquired US$ 6 million from Kilimo Trust, an East African based organisation that promotes agribusiness development to help boost quality and quantity production.