Opening doors: How national IDs empower women cross border traders in East Africa

When Agnes became a young widow with four children still to raise, many people in her community thought she would have to take her children out of school. 1_VKgpfpebYFgjXAUoKewFVg But education is important to Agnes and to support her family, she turned to business and became a cross border trader.

“I buy millet in Uganda and sell it in Kenya,” she explains. “In Kenya, I buy sugar and then bring back to Uganda.”

At first, life as a cross border trader was hard and risky as she was vulnerable to exploitation: Agnes resorted to smuggling her goods across the border to avoid arbitrary taxes and fines. Many women crossing at illegal crossing points frequently experience theft of their goods, assault and gender-based violence.

“There were very many years’ struggle …. When you smuggle, you struggle to make the ends meet.”

Joining the EASSI Women’s Cross Border Traders Association changed Agnes’s life. The Association provided information about rules and regulations governing the EAC Common Market including how to get a certificate of origin for their goods and the level of taxation that was due.

In 2014, Uganda introduced its first national ID card. It turns out that having this proof of legal identity helped pave the way for Agnes’s success. Armed with her national ID and the right information, she now trades legally.

“I buy millet in Uganda and sell it in Kenya,” she explains. “In Kenya, I buy sugar and then bring back to Uganda.”

With her national ID card, Agnes can cross at Uganda’s borders with Rwanda and Kenya. This is the result of an agreement to recognize each other’s national ID cards as valid travel documents, which was reached in 2014 between the three countries through the Northern Corridor Integration Projects to fast track implementation of the East African Community’s Common Market Protocol.

Using the national ID as a travel document has saved time and money. In the past, she either had to apply for a passport or she had to get documents like a birth certificates or letter of recommendation from the local sub-county chief, mayor’s office or town clerk to prove her citizenship and then spend time