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Mutukula: Where residents live in two countries

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The dusty streets of Mutukula Town are a beehive of activity. The shops are so small that traders spread the machendise into the streets and they use both the Ugandan and Tanzanian currencies. Right: Some of the trucks in transit. PHOTO BY Brian Mutebi 

By BRIAN MUTEBI

Posted  Friday, August 1  2014 at  01:00
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A story is told of how the children of the late president of Zaire now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) daily flew from Zaire to France to attend classes. Maybe those were children of a rich president never mind him ruling over some of the poorest peoples in the world. But in Mutukula sons and daughters of ordinary men and women live in one country and study in another, and they do not need a visa to cross borders nor do they fly in a plane. They walk.
Cathy Namuddu, a teacher at Mutukula Primary School, a school found at the Ugandan side of the border says about half of the school’s 400 pupils come from Tanzania. “We accommodate them all,” she says. Culture has been one critical issue that sometimes even the closest ethic groups have a sort of crush but Namuddu explains that they have not experienced any crushes. “All children follow the Ugandan culture. Because they want to study in Uganda they follow and uphold our culture and Ugandan laws,” she says.
DIFFERENT ORIGINS, ONE PEOPLE
Located 218 kilometres from Kampala, Mutukula is home to Ugandans, Tanzanians, Rwandese, Congolese to mention but a few, and all live in harmony. On the narrow dusty streets of the town it’s hard to authentically point out who is a Tanzanian or a Ugandan. Kiswahili is universally used.
People interact and move across the border freely. Dr Dominic Kaganda, the area’s vice chairperson says they have no problem to settle law abiding Tanzanians on the Ugandan side of the border. He says Tanzanians or any other non-Ugandan can freely set up business without going through rigorous procedures unlike on the Tanzanian side. “The Tanzanian authorities are more formal and strict,” he says, “They require Ugandans to have work permits and formalise their business activities.”
Maintaining relations
Formalising business activities involves registering the business enterprises and assessing the kind of business one wants to set up. Matters are not helped by the availability of large expanses of land in Tanzania. “Yes, that’s true but the Tanzanians are strict about their land,” says Dr Kaganda. So in case one is found illegally operating in Tanzania, they are deported. Many deportees have been settled in Sango Bay.
Kaganda explains that Mutukula, which is at the status of a town board has got collaborations with the Tanzanian authorities to ensure good governance, law and order. Offices like that of the Border Liaison Officer and the Border Internal Security Officer help in bringing about good working relationships between the two authorities and intelligence gathering respectively. Authorities also conduct joint security meetings to ensure the rule of law in the area. “So one cannot commit crimes in Tanzania and hope to run and hide here. We collaborate and hand them over,” says Dr. Kaganda.
Dr Dominic Kaganda, Mutukula’s vice chairperson says crimes rate is low. The common crimes include smuggling which Kaganda says is handled mainly by the law enforcement officers from the Uganda Revenue Authority. The others are petty crimes like fighting and thieving.
It’s this generally peaceful coexistence that has encouraged a good social life among residents here. Hajat Rahumart Mbabazi who runs a food joint says she has witnessed many weddings of Ugandans marrying Tanzanians and vise varsa. “There are many cultures here but because people are accommodative and have intermarried, the differences are not sharp,” she says. People live normally like elsewhere, she says. In fact Mbabazi is surprised when asked if Ugandans living on the Ugandan side of the border have gardens in Tanzania. Oh yes they do and why not if one might be frying pan cakes in Uganda and rushes to Tanzania to buy some cooking oil!

Business landscape

Business booms. Foreign exchange services are a common business, typical of a border town. In addition there is retail trade mainly in grains such as maize, beans and soya peas.
There are also many shoes and garments shop. Of course one item you cannot miss seeing are bitengi, the Congolese traditional wear. They are also popular in Tanzania. That’s why they are a common trade item here.
The unique nature of trade here, perhaps due to the tiny nature of shops, is that many of the merchandise are spread outside the shops unto the streets, further congesting the already narrow, dirty and dusty streets.
Yet trade is not encumbered. Banks that have set up shop in the town facilitate this trade in addition to savings and credit societies (SACCOs) empowering small scale businesses.

bmutebi@ug.nationmedia.com