Positioning migrants in informal cross border trade: the case of Busia, Uganda Kenya Border

  • Rita Nakanjako
  • Eria Olowo Onyango
  • Robert Kabumbuli
Keywords: Migration, Informal cross- border trade, Busia, borderlands.


Informal cross-border trade (ICBT) is illegal in Uganda and Kenya because of revenue loss making it risky and thus traders are treated suspiciously. Regardless, internal and international migrants persistently engage in ICBT. This study thus sought to examine the motivating factors for migrants’ continued engagement in ICBT despite state restrictions. Using ethnographic research design, the study captured and generated contextualised explanations of the motivating factors, migrants’ behaviours, voices, concerns and thoughts. Fieldwork lasted for twelve months: February, 2015 to January, 2016. The data collection methods included in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation. Participants included migrant and local traders- men and women, transporters, border security, and local leaders. Findings indicate that the strength and density of migrants’ social networks, their survival needs, border prospects, and weak enforcement of ICBT guidelines are key drivers of migrants to ICBT. Guided by social networks, migrant traders dominate petty trade, informal monetary exchange and other spill over entrepreneurial activities.  Therefore, there is need to recognise that migrant economy is an increasingly vital contributor to the national economy of the  countries connected by the border.

Key words: Migration, Informal cross- border trade, Busia, borderlands.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1684-4173
print ISSN: 1027-1775