Rwanda’s decision to close its busiest border crossing points with Uganda at the end of February has hit hard the transport business between the two countries, with bus companies and associated businesses left counting heavy losses.
As the standoff continues, the number and frequency of bus travels have drastically dropped, with the number of travellers dwindling to an all-time low.
Mr Denis Mugabo, the manager of Trinity Buses in Kampala, says for the last 13 days, they have been only able to send two buses to Rwanda daily, a big drop from the previous seven buses that used to run to Rwanda on a daily basis.
“Ever since the closure of Uganda-Rwanda border [at Gatuna], we have so far lost about Shs100 million,” Mr Mugabo said.
He said previously, the company raked in at least Shs7.8 million on each trip to Rwanda, but this has since drastically dropped as only two buses do the round trip daily.
Mr Mugabo says they were hit the hardest in the first days of the border closure as the two buses to and from Rwanda would not even be filled.
But he says the situation has only slightly improved in the past few days as two buses now operate with the seats all booked.
But Mr Mugabo also worries that should the crisis drag on, their 12 staff at their Bakuli offices in Kampala may be recalled to their head offices in Kigali, to cut costs.
He said Rwandan nationals who used to operate businesses in Uganda have temporarily closed shop and students who were set to come to Uganda have remained stranded.
At the Jaguar Bus terminal, the situation seems calmer with four buses parked waiting for Rwanda-bound passengers to board.
By press time, our efforts to get an elaborate comment from the staff at the bus terminal failed as one of the staff present only said all was okay and declined to point us to the manager in charge of operations.
Hotels hit hardest
But Ms Joan Nakiyonga, a manager of the popular Florina Rest House in the area where she offers lodging services, said unlike before when she received more than 30 clients daily, she now gets only two to three clients, and sometimes none.
Her restaurant section that is manned by a Rwandan national, was immediately vacated by patrons once they noticed journalists’ presence. “Most of my clients were Rwandans and ever since the closure of the border, I have been getting only two or even only one client per day,” Ms Nakiyonga explained.
She further said if her business is providing accommodation to people who come to book buses and she nolonger gets clients, then it is automatically because of the closure of the Uganda Rwanda border.
The same scenario obtained at a nearby eatery, which we found empty but with only one patron walking in to light a cigarette at lunch time. “Passengers bound for Rwanda have lunch and drinks at our restaurant but things have since changed and business is slow. When you look around, you see only the same people who carry luggage at the terminals are the ones here drinking beer and playing pool,” Brenda, who is popularly known as Nalongo by the people around, said.
Tourism not spared
A man at the bus terminal also expressed anger and frustration, lamenting that his source of livelihood had been disrupted by the border row.
He said he earns from the tourism business and usually makes at least Shs500,000 a day helping tourists to book buses and working on their travel documents, but this was no more.
A mobile money business dealer who deals in Uganda-Rwanda currency exchange said she is no longer working and described the situation at the terminal as tense since everyone is suspicious of one another. “Rwandans no longer send money, the situation is tense and we don’t know what is next and if it goes on like this, we are headed to closure of business,” she said.
Low-skilled workers at the terminal have stopped working and a few who we found at the area were busy playing board games in the bars and others like food and soft drinks vendors only idled about.
Mr Denis Musinguzi, a boda boda cyclist at Rwanda Bus terminal in Bakuli, said he had only served two passengers at the terminal.
He said even some of his clients who have business in the area have stayed away from work due to lack of business.
“I used to go home late and I could come for work very early since very many people would flock here to travel, but now I’m about to abandon this stage because business is dead here,” Musinguzi said.