At least 1,000 Ugandan drivers and conductors doing public transport in South Sudan have lost business after the Juba government ordered that such jobs be reserved for their nationals.
The chairperson of Ugandan traders in South Sudan, Mr William Ntege, told the Daily Monitor yesterday that this is the second time the neighbouring country is issuing similar arbitrary declarations without considering the amount of investment Ugandan traders have injected into developing the transport industry in the young nation.
Last year, about 1,600 Ugandans involved in boda-boda (motorcycle) transport business were banned from operating after the Juba government declared that such trade should be a preserve of South Sudanese.
“When we (Ugandan traders) first ventured here (in South Sudan) there was no viable means of transport. So we invested in taxis and boda bodas, but it seems we are now being punished for doing that —developing the transport industry,” Mr Ntege said in an interview yesterday.
He continued: “We wanted to be given at least one year to exit the industry but that fell on deaf ears. The purpose of the one year exit plan would allow our traders who have loans with banks to clear the arrears or at least enable them recoup the investment they have sunk into the business.”
The chairperson of Uganda taxi drivers operating in South Sudan, Mr Rashid Manafwa, said several public officials from different enforcement agencies have resorted to underhand methods to confiscate Ugandan-owned taxis.
“Some of our traders want to come back home but they cannot because to do so, the officials demand that they pay $400 (about Shs1m) per taxi they have or else they forfeit it,” he said.
“Since last week when the declaration was made, the officials have been demanding money from Ugandan drivers or threatening them with arrest,” Mr Manafwa added.
The two leaders also said the recent pronouncement to ban foreigners in the taxi business will hit Ugandans hard given the business was still young and they dominate the transport business in South Sudan with about 1,000 taxis.
Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) spokesperson Isa Ssekitto said although they have no objection with the Juba government to banning Ugandans and other foreigners from engaging in taxi business there, they condemn the way the ban has been done.
“We deserve a little bit of respect from the government of South Sudan. We expected them to do this in a phased manner and not outright banning as they have done,” he said.
“It is natural that some jobs can be left to the nationals but the way you do it is a sign of how much regard you have for those who started it when you were not in position to do so by yourself,” Ssekitto added.
The Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary, Amb James Mugume, and the ministry spokesperson, Mr Charles Opolot could not respond to our repeated calls. The South Sudan Ambassador to Uganda, Mr Samuel Luate lominsuk, also couldn’t pick our calls despite repeated attempts.
But when contacted, the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Trade, Mr Julius Onen, said he was not aware of the ban on Ugandan drivers and conductors by South Sudan. He promised to follow it up.
Most Ugandan taxis were operating between Nimule, Juba, Yei, Rumbek and parts of Bor.