New field work conducted by Kristof Titeca for the CSRC in the border areas of North-Western Uganda, North-Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan yields important lessons about the development of cross-border trading patterns in this region. Informal trade between these countries pre-dates the colonial period, though major political and economic changes have occurred since the 1980's. Drawing from interviews with active traders and government officials, the author argues that internal and external political security and conflict, poor infrastructure and changing state policies are the foremost factors which have influenced the shifting and fragmenting cross- border trade relations between these countries.
For many participants, informal cross-border trade (which largely operates outside the legal framework of the state), is seen as an indigenous form of development, providing a 'coping' economy for marginalised populations who are isolated or excluded from activities at the centre of the state. It has the potential to provide new opportunities and access to markets, but it is often accompanied by the development of elite business owners, gate keepers and imbalanced power relationships. The tensions that this can create can be seen in attitudes towards Ugandan traders, who currently reap the highest rewards from cross-border trade due to the relative stability and security of their country. This paper recommends that policymakers not only consider the influence of external events on regional cross-border trade, but also address the relations of power and profit which may produce unequal relationships and tensions.
Working Paper No. 63 (series 2), London, UK; Crisis States Research Centre, 25 pp.