The United Kingdom (UK) will provide £1 million (about K1 billion) funding to implement a programme with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support informal traders – who rely on trading across the borders around Southern Africa for their livelihoods and income – to ensure traders can do business safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office, UK Minister for Africa, James Duddridge MP, made the announcement during his visit to Malawi and Zambia last week.

Said the minister: “From farmers selling their crops at regional markets, to growing African businesses exporting to global markets, traders across Southern African are an important and growing driver of regional business, investment and prosperity.

“UK support to help both formal and informal traders to move their goods quickly and safely will help Southern African trade to not just survive the economic consequences of COVID-19, but thrive in the future.”

During his visit to Malawi and Zambia, the Minister for Africa also heard about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the livelihoods of informal traders across the region,and announced further UK support to help cross-border businesses trade safely during the pandemic.

Through the partnership, the UK and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) will provide advice and training to traders, governments and border agencies, so that key border posts in Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, and the wider region can be open and safe spaces for traders to resume their business legally and safely.

Informal cross-border trade accounts for up to 30-40% of regional trade across Southern Africa – making it a vital source of income and food security for communities across the region. But with many borders closed to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, traders – up to 70% of whom are women – are missing out on crucial earnings their families rely on.

Commenting on the development, Womba Mumbuluma, a small scale border trader at COMESA Market, Lusaka, Zambia said:”Our livelihood depends on us being able to cross borders frequently, in order to buy and sell goods. With the spread of COVID-19, it became difficult to trade across borders as most borders were closed. Although there are alternatives, like online shopping, our businesses have suffered great losses.”

During his visit to Lusaka, the Minister for Africa also met with Chileshe Kapepwe, Secretary-General of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA). With 21 member states, stretching from Tunisia to Eswatini and the Seychelles, COMESA represents a market of approximately 560 million people.

It was announced that the UK’s High Commissioner in Lusaka, Nicholas Woolley will shortly be accredited as the UK’s Special Representative to COMESA, leading on the UK’s partnership with COMESA. In this role, Woolley will ensure closer working between UK and COMESA on key regional issues.