Katuna: The town that flourished from smuggling

Friday June 1 2012

Katuna: The town that flourished from smuggling

The border point of Uganda and Rwnda at Katuna. Penalty. There are 350 licensed clearing and forwarding companies in the country. About 30, have since beginning of the year, been penalised due to conducting business in an unprofessional manner. File photo 

By Robert Muhereza

The uncontrolled smuggling of goods from Uganda to Rwanda and vice versa during Idi Amin’s regime of 1972 to 1979 made Katuna grow from a small trading centre of temporary structures to the current permanent and storeyed ones.

A mixture of Banyarwanda, Bakiga and Banyankole businessmen and women operate at this border town and they mainly deal in selling food stuffs, operate lodges and money changing.

“Smuggling helped us to develop this town. After a ban was slapped on smuggling in the late 1980’s, development came to a stand still. We are now depending on long route lorry drivers who buy our food stuffs and sleep in our lodges,” Godfrey Kyomukama, a businessman in Katuna says.

Paraffin, beans, coffee, ground nuts, crude waragi and some minerals used to be smuggled from Uganda to Rwanda and on return, the Ugandan dealers would smuggle Rwanda’s beer Premius into Uganda where it would fetch double profits.

The former LCI chairman of Katuna, John Bitarabeho, says the expansion of Katuna border town has been hampered by its geographical position.

“Katuna is located next to the swamp that forms Uganda’s boundary with Rwanda (on the left as you come from Kabale town) and a hill of steep slopping rocks on the right. This has made its expansion very complicated,” he says.

Its establishment
Katuna border town with Rwanda was established in the early 1920s as a small trading centre where small food stores operated by indigenous Bakiga existed and in 2010, it was elevated from a town board to a town council by the Ministry of Local Government. It has a population of about 1,300 people.

There are many clearing and forwarding firms located in Katuna and there is no single bank mandated by Bank of Uganda operating here despite the level of trade which involves millions that takes place here each day.

Reaching Katuna, you will not miss seeing well endowed, beautiful ladies majority of whom speak Kinyarwanda. And the spices from different hotels that offer snacks are part of the welcome party to the town.

“In fact these ladies have contributed a lot in beautifying this border town. You see the small, medium, and the big size. You will also see the tall and the short. Many of the long route lorry drivers prefer to stay longer at this border town so that they are entertained by these beautiful women,” Timothy Mugaga one of the long route drivers says.

Relations within and without borders
The people on either side of the border are living a harmonious life because of cross border inter marriages with a few land and trade disputes that have been registered recently.

The vice chairman Uganda national cross border traders association, David Arinanye, says some Rwandan authorities are stopping relatives from either side from attending social functions like burials and weddings as they demand for travel permits and yet these are family members despite the border line.

“I am ready to take this matter to the higher authority because it’s illegal under the East African Community arrangements. You cannot allow intermarriages and then stop the free movement of the people visiting their relatives across the border,” he said.

Money changers at this border town have claims of being harassed by security agents who want them to operate in the no man’s land only yet they pay licences to the town council to operate anywhere in Katuna town council.

“There is need for government or an investor to establish a bank here at Katuna so that we are able to keep our money safely. Most of us have lost our money to thieves as we carry it home in the evening after work. It’s our wish that the higher authority intervenes and stops the security personnel from harassing us,” one of the money changers at Katuna said on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised.

But the officer in charge at Katuna police station ASP Ahamed Hasumira denied harassing them saying they have allocated a place in the no man’s land for the money changers to operate their business, without causing congestion at the border and also for security reasons. He adds that the police is happy about the work of these businessmen.

The hygiene at Katuna is most worrying as very few commercial house owners have toilets and so people just discharge waste into the swamp behind their buildings. The commercial house owners claim that the place is water logged and it is complicated to build a pit latrine.

But the town clerk for Katuna town council, Eric Sande, admits that there is a big challenge of poor waste management and plans are being put in place to establish eco san latrines that do not require digging of pits. He also says the construction of garbage skips is under way so as to reduce garbage in the town council. He adds that plans are also under way to put stringent measures on prostitution that is currently rampant at the border town to control the spread of diseases such as HIV/Aids.

Factfile:
Katuna is located on the Ugandan border with Rwanda, in extreme southwestern Uganda. The town is located in Kamuganguzi Sub-county, Ndorwa County, in Kabale District. And in Kinyarwanda the town is called Gatuna

In the pre-colonial times Katuna was a very important place. This is because when the first Bakiga arrived in the hills of Kagarama and Rwanyena, fearing to cross the big lake which they named Bunyonyi, (too big that small birds could not cross it), they discovered a shorter route along the plains where there was a tree under which they rested, played and prayed giving thanks to their ancestors before they could proceed to the hills. They named the place Gatuna meaning, a meeting place.

To this day, Katuna is still largely occupied by the Abasigi, Abagyesera and the Abungura sub-clans.

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