Uganda’s Women in Trade Soar High: Bridging East and West Africa

October 25, 2023

Image: Delegates from UNDP and the Government of Uganda proudly send-off 40 women traders on the inaugural flight from Entebbe to Lagos

On the 19th of October 2023, the skies above Entebbe International Airport buzzed with anticipation as Uganda Airlines launched its inaugural flight to Lagos, Nigeria. As the plane ascended, it symbolized more than just a new route; it marked the dawn of strengthened trade ties between Uganda and Nigeria, particularly under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

This momentous event was not just a launch, but a testament to the power of partnerships. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) joined hands with Uganda Airlines to flag off this inaugural flight, aiming to strengthen partnerships and stimulate trade & investment between Uganda and Nigeria. This collaboration demonstrates how the private sector is a significant driver of inclusive and sustainable development.

Trade, especially cross-border trade, presents a unique opportunity to generate employment, unlock market opportunities, and drive technological advancements. However, intra-African trade currently accounts for only 16.6% of Africa’s total trade and 29% of her Gross Domestic Product. 

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement offers a promising opportunity to boost intra-African trade and use it more effectively as an engine of growth and sustainable development. Although operational, most Ugandan businesses, particularly women and youth-led enterprises, are not yet fully empowered to access new African market opportunities due to various impeding factors such as lack of or limited logistical options, lack of information on markets and export compliance measures in target markets. UNDP is therefore supporting data-driven trade efforts for Ugandan businesses, as well as supporting efforts to harness the enormous potential of AfCFTA for small and medium scale enterprises in Uganda. It is envisaged that these efforts will will drive inclusive growth and accelerate the country’s structural transformation through the resultant business gains for socially vulnerable groups such as women and youth.

Image: Moments from the Nigeria-Uganda Trade, Investment and Tourism Forum: A Collage of Exhibitions

The launch of the route also included a Nigeria – Uganda Trade, Investment and Tourism Forum held in Lagos, as well as a series of Business to Business and Business to Consumer engagements. UNDP supported a 40-person delegation consisting largely of women and youth to participate in these engagements.

Image: Uganda Airlines CEO Ms. Jenifer Bamuturaki shares her vision of bridging East and West Africa through trade and travel as she addresses the passengers of the maiden flight to Lagos

During the flag-off event at Entebbe International Airport, Ms. Jenifer Bamuturaki, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Airlines said “Today we are bridging the gap between West Africa and East Africa. I am very glad that UNDP has sponsored 40 businesswomen from Uganda to travel to Lagos and create business linkages."

Image: Hon. Harriet Ntabazi, Minister of State for Trade, articulates her vision for enhanced African trade during the historic inaugural flight to Lagos.

Uganda’s Minister of State for Trade, Hon. Harriet Ntabazi echoed these sentiments saying, “Today we are going to fly the Crane to Nigeria. We are no longer thinking of Uganda alone, or East Africa alone, we are looking at Africa as a whole and its potential for production and trade.”

Image: Hon. Fred Byamukama, Minister of State for Transport, shares his insights and vision.

Uganda’s Minister of State for Transport, Hon. Fred Byamukama, added, “We have a lot of business opportunities, a lot of produce here in Uganda that we can take to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria. We must now support Ugandans to do business.”

Image: Ms. Elsie Attafuah, the UNDP Resident Representative, during the flag-off event of the Entebbe-Lagos flight

Ms. Elsie Attafuah, the UNDP Resident Representative lauded the launch as an "airbridge for trade, jobs, wealth creation, and ensuring Africa takes its rightful place in the global world."

Image: Nigerian High Commissioner to Uganda H.E. Ismael Ayobami Alatis delivers his remarks at the inaugural flight to Lagos.

On his part, H.E. Ismael Ayobami Alatis, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Uganda, encouraged Ugandans to visit Nigeria and explore the remarkable market potential that the nation offers.

Some of the women traders who were part of the delegation also shared their voices and experiences:

Image: Grace Baite, CEO of Gracious Tours and Travel Ltd, strikes a poised pose, ready to embark on the inaugural Entebbe to Lagos flight

Grace Baite, CEO of Gracious Tours and Travel Ltd, brimmed with enthusiasm, saying "I am thrilled to be part of this journey. Thanks to UNDP and Uganda Airlines, we are spreading our wings to Nigeria. Given the limited direct connections in West Africa, Nigeria is our gateway. We anticipate a surge in tourists from West and across Africa, now that Uganda Airlines has smoothened the path for us."

Image: Ms. Susan Kushaba, a market trader in fresh produce, interacts with Ambassador Nelson Ocheger, Uganda's High Commissioner to Nigeria, during the Nigeria – Uganda Trade, Investment and Tourism Forum

Kushaba Susan, Chairperson of Owino market vendors, couldn't hide her joy regarding UNDP's support. "This flight is a game-changer," she remarked. "Remember the gruelling 14-hour trip to Nigeria? Those days are history! In less than four hours, we can now ferry delicate goods like tomatoes and pineapples, without fearing spoilage. It's a godsend, especially for the average trader. We used to lose so much produce, but this flight changes the game. We're ready to collaborate and find our niche in the Nigerian market.” 

For UNDP, this inaugural flight signifies an exciting opportunity for Africa to connect more within the continent and create more opportunities for trade. It is an airbridge for trade, for jobs, for wealth creation, ensuring Africa takes its rightful place in the global world. UNDP is working in this “trade for development” space because it believes that trade can be a powerful tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By supporting Ugandan businesses, especially women and youth-led enterprises, to access new markets and opportunities, UNDP is contributing to poverty reduction, gender equality, decent work, economic growth, and regional integration. UNDP is also promoting the principles of human rights, social justice, and environmental sustainability in trade policies and practices. UNDP is committed to working with the government, the private sector, and other partners to ensure that trade benefits all Ugandans and advances the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.