Smuggling, conflict cripple business at Oraba border

A man walks past the checkpoint at Oraba border point as drivers of vehicles wait for clearance to cross to South Sudan last year. PHOTO/RASHUL ADIDI. 

What you need to know:

  • Oraba border point is 18kms from Koboko Town and it is a major route to South Sudan’s capital Juba, and DR Congo.

The business community at Oraba border point in Koboko District has appealed to the government to lift the ban on the movement of fuel trucks through the border section.

In April 2022, government, through Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), suspended movement of fuel trucks via Oraba border point due to continuous smuggling of fuel in West Nile.

However, the business community in the area says the ban has severely affected their businesses.
Ms Zulaika Asimwe, a restaurant owner at Oraba border point, says due to the ban and the instability in South Sudan, business is slow since truck drivers used to constitute the biggest number of her customers.

“Before the ban, we could prepare more than four meals in a day. We were making money. However, we are no longer getting customers,” she says.

Drop in revenue
Ms Asimwe says she now sells food worth about Shs150,000 a day compared to the more than Shs800,000 she used to earn before the ban.

Mr Muzamil Malish, a boda boda rider in the area, says many youth have now resorted to criminal activities.

“We are suffering and struggling to get clients yet we have families to look after,” he says, adding that he now hardly earns Shs5,000 a day.

“Many youth have resorted to criminal activities like robbery and smuggling because life has become hard so. We request government to lift the ban on the movement of fuel trucks,” he says.

Mr Ivan Moro, who deals in foreign currency exchange at Oraba customs, says business has generally dropped and the South Sudanese pound has lost value.

“The truck drivers and other travellers constituted majority of our clients but now due to the instabilities in South Sudan, many people fear travelling to the country and the situation has been worsened by the suspension of movement of fuel trucks,” he says.

However, URA argues that the country loses billions of shillings annually due to the illicit trade in the area.

Smuggling in commodities like petroleum products, rice, cigarettes, drugs, sugar and motorcycle via porous border points are the common illegal trade activities in the area.

Mr Emmanuel Bukuli Musoke, a customs officer, says most times the fuel that goes through Oraba border point to South Sudan and DR Congo comes back to Uganda through smuggling by the illegal dealers, which makes the country lose billions of shillings. To arrest the situation, they decided to suspend movement of trucks through this point, leaving only Elegu point in Amuru District open.

Mr Musoke says there is a gradual increase in tax collection at the border point after the ban and URA targets to raise Shs1.2b in the current financial year.

South Sudan leaders speak out
In a joint cross border security meeting with leaders from West Nile districts of Moyo, Koboko and Yumbe, and those from Central Equatoria State of South Sudan, held in Yumbe District last October, the leaders from Central Equatoria State complained over the indefinite suspension of movement of fuel trucks by the Ugandan authorities.

Mr Moses Mawa, the minister of Roads and Bridges in Central Equatoria State said the ban has affected them economically.

“How did this issue of fuel reach Kampala? This should have been an issue handled at a lower level by the local leaders before it reaches the higher level. The issue of control measures on smuggling fuel should be handled at both sides, not South Sudan alone,” he said.

Mr Emmanuel Anthony Adil, the governor of Central Equatoria State, said the insecurity at the border points has contributed negatively to the economic development of the two countries.

“Our borders have been used for conflicts but we shall address the problem and instead use the borders to promote trade and investments,” he said.

URA’s stand
However, Mr Moses Wanjala, the URA supervisor for West Nile region, says although he cannot give a specific date, the issues that led to the ban will soon be resolved and the ban lifted.

“Our issue has been that fuel that goes to South Sudan shouldn’t come back to the Ugandan market but due to laxity on the side of South Sudan, fuel taken to that side comes back through Oraba border point. There has been no serious step taken by the South Sudanese authorities like their Ugandan counterpart is doing to control smuggling of fuel,” he says.

“In the meantime, we have agreement to the effect that in case of any ongoing critical infrastructure development like road construction in South Sudan, the authorities there can seek special permission for supply of fuel through this border point,” he added.

Background...Oraba border town
Oraba border point is 18kms from Koboko Town and it is a major route to South Sudan’s capital Juba, and DR Congo.

However, the current situation, for instance the instability in South Sudan and now the suspension of movement of fuel trucks through the border point, has made businesses in the area dormant, forcing many people to abandon the border point.