By Christopher Chisi
“Some years back, we used to avoid using the Mwami-Mchinji Border Post from either Malawi or Zambia but rather cross the border informally by using Zalewa route because of the long clearing process involved at the border,” Florida Lungu, a Zambian based cross border trader recalled, saying this used to pose serious challenges to her and her fellow cross border traders.
“Whenever we used the Zalewa route we could loss our goods because authorities from Either Malawi or Zambia could pounce on us and confiscate them.”
Mrs. Lungu who has been in this business for more than 3 decades further recollected that “We could take about 9 to 10 hours just to be cleared at the border, this was really a setback on our side and it is such barriers that made us ,avoid formal routes.
Another trader, Jane Zimba complained that due to high export and import duties, it is usually difficult for her to realize profits and eventually expand her business.
On the other side of the border, the challenges affecting business operations of Malawian Cross border Traders are not unusual from those faced by their counterparts on the Zambian side.
Stella Phiri who deal in clothes and kitchen wear said because of high taxes which they are subjected to they prefer to use informal route which she said is cheaper than cross the Mwami-Mchinji border post.
Despite “The African Development Bank estimating that Cross border to contribute to the incomes of some 43 per cent of the African population,” prolonged and cumbersome immigration processes, often done manually, increase the cost of trade a development which indirectly hinder the growth of some cross border traders.
The World Bank confirms that “cross-border transactions remains expensive for small traders between Zambia and Malawi, costing traders 62 percent more in border costs than large formal traders.”
But following the recent handing over of the Migration Information and Data Analysis system to the Malawian government and its installation at the Mwami-Mchinji Border Post, by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mrs.Lungu is confident that crossing the border formally will no longer be a difficult undertaking to small scale traders, a development she reiterated that will increase formal trade in the region.
“Taking long hours when crossing the border is among non tariff barriers that has of late affected us traders and we hope it will now be a thing of the past,” she noted.
The Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS) has been installed, with financial support from European to allow small scale traders to more effectively manage cross-border movements with border passes.
The system which is a high-quality and affordable can collect, process and record information for the purpose of identification of travelers, data collection and analysis.
And another Zambian based Cross Border Trade, named Aliness Banda is also hopeful that the setting up of MIDAS at the border post will help improve their business operation but wants the governments of Zambia and Malawi to reduce tax duties in order to encourage more small cross border traders to cross the border formally.
Meanwhile Zambia Ministry of Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Chileshe Mulenga during the installation of the (MIDAS) called on governments in the region to make the use of illegal routes much more punitive so as to encourage cross borders to use the regular routes.
He noted that the use of illegal routes is a risk to the securities of the two countries as well as the region thus the need to ensure that they are not encouraged.
And Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Assistant Secretary General Finance and Administration Dr. Dev Haman also bemoaned the lack of systematic data collection and management saying it affects the proper monitoring and understanding of the phenomenon by governments, regional organisations and cooperating partners.
Among the objectives of MIDAS is to facilitate small scale cross border trade flows between countries through effective policy and governance reforms ,institution capacity building ,improved border infrastructure and better date collection and monitoring.
In line with the objectives , if well implemented MIDAS has the potential to improve and facilitate the trade integration between Malawi and Zambia.