Trade dispute plays out at Mpondwe border

Export Zone Mpondwe Lhubiriha market at the border of Uganda and DR Congo in Kasese that was closed on September 5. PHOTO/YOWERI KAGUTA

A team of South Sudanese officials and diplomats from the South Sudanese Embassy in Kampala travelled to the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border town of Mpondwe last Saturday in response to reports of harassment faced by South Sudanese fish exporters. 

At Mpondwe, the officials were told a trader was arrested and jailed at Katwe prison and soldiers had reportedly asked for $7,000 (approximately Shs26m) for his release. 
The traders said eight other trucks were held at Elegu Border post in northern Uganda because the fish had not been cleared to proceed to DR Congo.

They also complained that the trucks are forcefully opened and goods unpacked before their destination.
“They told us we are not allowed to pass through the country without working with the local Ugandan companies, yet the companies charge up to Shs2m,” a trader said.

The traders also said they are charged money at different stations in Uganda; $300 (Shs1.1m) for a transit document from the Uganda Revenue Authority; $500 (Shs1.8m) at Mubende weighbridge, Shs500,000 at Kasese URA checkpoint; Shs100,000 at Kikorongo Police checkpoint and Shs850,000 at the border before the customs officials validate the exit documents.

However, during a meeting with Ugandan officials, including the Kasese deputy Resident District Commissioner, district Police commander, and other security officers, the South Sudanese diplomats were informed that the traders were under-declaring tonnage and accused of entering Uganda with light tonnage at Elegu but exiting with heavier tonnage at Mpondwe. 

The traders were also accused of dealing in immature fish from Lake Victoria, and sneaking them to South Sudan through Kenya before packaging them for DR Congo through Uganda, but the traders insisted the fish species they dealt in were not found in Uganda.
South Sudan also accused Uganda of contravening the trade rules on transit of both the Geneva Convention and the East African Community (EAC).

“How can URA and fisheries authorities that gave stamps of approval to these fish trucks at the Elegu border crossing be the same authorities stopping the fish from crossing to their final destination?” asked Lt Col Samuel Wani, Interpol attaché at the South Sudan embassy in Kampala.
According to a border official, all fish traders, including the South Sudanese used to sell fish in the fish market on the Ugandan side of the border before the Covid-19 lockdown. 
Fearing congestion, the government allowed the traders to cross into Congo, where they established a big market.

The Tanzanian High Commission has also written to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries over fish trucks that have been denied exit at the Mpondwe border.