How Malawi-Tanzania border lockdown due to COVID-19 will ruin cross-border Trade

April 28, 2020

It is almost mid day , the usual busiest time for both custom clearers and importers at the Malawi’s biggest Songwe border which shares the boundary with Tanzania, but business is an usual today.

There is just a handful number of customers believed to have come just to clear their goods stuck at the border for some time. While on the other part, a heavily equipped police and army are highly charged ,chasing every person found at the border.

“So the border is finally closed?,” Wondered a local trader who was enroute to Mbeya on the other side of the country to order ‘Matayifa’, local name that Malawians have branded high quality clothes from Tanzania.

Malawian citizens rely on cross-border businesses with Tanzania, South Africa as well as Zambia for their survival.

The importation of cars, exporting of Malawi’s agricultural commodities to Europe among other countries in the world depends on the major  Tanzanian port, Dar’eslaam.

However, due to confirmation of coronavirus cases, authorities of the two countries, have decided to close the borders to control the further spread of the COVID-19.

The decision to close the borders has led to the cross-boarder women traders cry foul saying has negatively impacted on their businesses posing a threat to their day to day survival.

Tanzania has over 250 coronavirus cases while Malawi has registered confirmed total of 34 cases.

Alot of Malawian business persons especially Women rely on Tanzanian market where they order clothes, shoes , kitchen ware among others for sale in their home country.

For over many years Tanzania  market such as Tunduma, Mbeya, Kyela among others, have become a hotspot for brand-new assorted merchandise for Malawian traders apart from big Tanzania Cities such as Dar’eslaam.

To those who started the business many years ago, have benefited alot and they are able to pay fees for their children while some have built houses.

However, the coming of Coronavirus to the two countries has brought more harm than good in as far as cross- border trade is concerned.

The closure of the two borders mean no other business can be transacted between the two countries putting business at a tight corner.

One of the business lady from Central region district of Salima, Martha Makhuwira said life is becoming very hard as she used to rely on such a Tanzanian business to manage her family needs.

“Things are not well with the COVID-19. Business has completely come to a halt. We can no longer travel to Tanzania to buy our goods because the borders are closed.

“I relied on the business. Am a teacher by profession but the salary I get does not suffice my needs such as paying of fees for my children, among other daily needs at home. I had a big capital but it has gone down because am using the same money to buy food” said Makhuwira

Makhuwira said she  now intends to venture into selling legumes to sustain her capital before it gets finished.

Another business lady from Lilongwe, Esther Kadzamira said life is no longer the same as business has completely gone down.

“Honestly business has been heavily affected because most people are now focusing on buying food than other items due to closure of borders amid the COVID-19 and on top of that for people who rely on crossboarder business it is going to be hard to keep up with livelihood.

“Now the fact that we don’t know when COVID-19 will be contained it is going to be one hell of a journey,” said Kadzamira

Another  lady based in southern city of Blantyre, Loveness Taulo said Coronavirus pandemic has really affected her business, as things are becoming more hard in her life.

She said since there is no longer a chance to cross the boarder to Tanzania for business, she does not have any items for sale; saying continued stay at home would mean a great impact to her individual economy.

“Well, myself am trying to look for a substitute opportunity to this cross border business. With this crisis, many people are fighting for hand sanitizers and even masks to cover their faces. I see this as an opportunity to try as we wait for things to be back to normal,” said Angella Kalizembe, a cross border business lady based in the Malawi’s Northern district of Karonga

The closure of borders has even affected rice farmers in the country as some relied on the same Tanzania for market.

One of the Rice farmers in the northern district of Karonga, Elias Phiri said the COVID-19 is threatening even Rice business as some of the farmers rely on Tanzanian market for better prices.

Phiri said even if the borders are closed, the desperation has forced some people to use unchartered routes to sneak to Tanzania for business thereby putting lives of a number of Malawians in the Northern region  at a higher risk of the COVID-19.

The closure of Malawi and Tanzania borders has not only affected cross border women traders but car dealers are also seeing the trouble.

One of the renowned second hand car dealer in the Northern city of Mzuzu, Kayaya Thera said car business has been affected saying currently, they are relying on drivers from Dar’es salam to bring the cars to Malawi.

“This works better if you are picking one car but if it’s 2 or more where you have to be part of the drivers it does not work with this lockdown of boarders in both countries.

“This means landing price is higher  than expected. consequently the selling price goes up. Now with the slow down in almost all businesses means for one to get a customer it’s even a bigger problem. This means no selling of cars or selling it at a loss. So generally the business has been affected with this pandemic in our midst,” said Thera

Economic Commentator from University of Malawi Chancellor College, Dr Ben Kalua said the lock down of borders has a devastating impact to Malawi economy considering that the country rely on Imports.

Kalua said cross border trade holds a great  Importance to Malawi economy and hence Malawi is likely to suffer the impacts for a long time.

“This is why as a country we need to intergrate and start to invest in our own country if we are to keep our economy in balance. Otherwise the COVID-19 has a grave impact to our economy and the whole world at large,” said Kalua

Recently Malawi Reserve Bank announced that banks and other financial institutions should consider removing interests on loans with an aim to cushion the business people among others amid the tough COVID-19 pandemic.