Hope for more trade as Uganda, DRC abolish visa rule

Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to abolish visa requirements for their citizens to boost cross-border trade and East African Community integration.

Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Okello Oryem said the decision comes after engagements between the two countries.

“Both Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Felix Tshisekedi have been instrumental in pushing for this. This will enable our people to move more freely across the two countries,” Oryem said.

According to official data, Uganda earned $241 million in trade surplus from the DRC in 2020, and an estimated $177 million in informal trade exports, which pushes the figure to $418 million in trade earnings.

Read: Uganda, DR Congo in talks for visa-free travel deal

This makes DRC Uganda’s number one trade surplus market.

Uganda’s main exports to DRC are cement, palm oil, rice, sugar, refined petroleum, baked goods, cosmetics and iron materials.

Old ties

The two countries have had common ties even before the DR Congo joined the EAC in 2021.

Citizens of one country have kin across the border. Farmers from western Uganda have farms in eastern DRC.

According to John Bitswande, a Ugandan cocoa farmer from Kasese district who farms across the border, the removal of the visa requirement presents a better chance of free movement for people like him.

“I personally have a farm just across the border in DRC where I grow different crops. While most of the time we cross illegally to farm, at times authorities stop us and ask for visa fees of around $50. It can even go to $100, depending on the mood of the officer handling you,” he said.

Connect suppliers

Uganda’s Ministry of Trade said in a brief statement that over the past four years, there have been deliberate efforts to connect Ugandan suppliers with buyers in the DRC, but the main hindrance has been security.

“We have hosted several DRC potential buyers here in Kampala in a bid to connect them with suppliers. We have also facilitated manufacturers and trader to go to DRC for business-to-business meetings under the Uganda-DRC summit,” the statement said.

Kampala and Kinshasa are also jointly developing three road projects inside the DRC. The first one will run from Kasindi to Beni (80km) and the second will integrate the Beni-Butebo axis (54km).

The third will stretch for 89km from the border town of Bunagana, through Rutshuru to Goma.

Better roads are beneficial to both economies, allowing logistics companies and traders to carry often perishable goods across the borders without losses and giving access to lucrative mining concessions in Congo.