Rivalry among traders behind Kenya-Uganda fish export row

NEWS |
Fish traders in Busia sort salted fish from Lake Turkana on Wednesday. The fish is repackaged and exported to the Democratic Republic of Congo. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Jackline Obuya, a fishmonger based in Busia town, has been making frantic phone calls to relatives and friends asking them for money to repay a bank loan.

She took the loan five months ago seeking to expand her fish business, but the bank she borrowed from has lately been on her neck.

“The bank is threatening to auction my property because I defaulted to repay a Sh70,000 loan within three months,” Ms Obuya told The Saturday Standard.

She is among traders who borrowed money from a local bank and bought salted fish from Lake Turkana while eyeing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) market.

“We packed the fish into four lorries and took them to DRC, but Ugandan security impounded our fish at Mpondwe area and sold it. The fish was worth Sh50 million,” Obuya said.

The Fisheries Protection Unit of Uganda claimed the fish that was impounded was immature and that Kenyan traders had stolen it from Lake Kyoga and Lake George, but the traders have denied the accusations.

Obuya says that even if the bank auctions her household goods, animals and her remaining fish stock, it would not be able to recover all its money.

“Ordinarily we go for the loans as a group and apply for between Sh50,000 and Sh500,000 depending on your ability to repay. We pool the resources and buy fish for export and repayment is made once we sell the fish.”

Obuya and her colleagues lodged a case at a magistrate’s court in Mpondwe seeking orders to have their fish released but the matter was dismissed at their expense.

Kenyan traders are counting losses after Ugandan authorities blocked them from transporting their fish to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through their territory. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

 

Collusion

The Kenyan traders believe their counterparts in the DRC and Uganda colluded to put them in a fix.

“Ugandan and Congolese fish traders appear to have conspired to short-change us. We were reported to Ugandan authorities and accused of smuggling fish from Uganda lakes, repackaging them in Busia and exporting them to DRC, which is not true,” said Obuya.

Busia Retail Dry Fish Traders chairperson Mercy Akinyi said that after their cargo was impounded, the Ugandans started helping their Congolese counterparts to transport the fish using their lorries.

“We don’t understand why Ugandans are allowed to do business in our country without restrictions yet we are arrested whenever we cross the border. It is unfair,” said Ms Akinyi.

According to Akinyi, traders from Uganda have been exporting fish into the country without restrictions. “They control fresh fish supply tenders in Kenya and dominate the business in Busia town,” she said.

Akinyi said that sometimes Uganda traders supply fish to households in Busia “but we never complain yet we are accused of all manner of ills when we export our fish through Uganda’s borders.”

The traders wondered why the Kenyan government has turned a deaf ear to their suffering. “The Ugandan military continues to terrorise us over flimsy claims of smuggling fish but our government is silent.”

Christine Nyegenye, a fish trader, pleaded with President Uhuru Kenyatta to meet his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni and resolve the stalemate.

Earlier, Western Regional Commissioner Esther Maina acknowledged the existence of a row between Kenya and Uganda and assured fish traders that the two governments were engaging each other in order to have the trade dispute resolved.

“The traders have been exporting fish to DRC since 2008 and there has never been a problem. I wish to state that the fish that is exported to Congo is from Lake Turkana, and not Ugandan lakes as has been claimed,” said Ms Maina.

Busia County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Moses Osio said they were engaging the national government on the issue.

“We have asked the government to come up with a lasting solution to this problem,” he told The Saturday Standard in Busia town.

Busia Cross Border Fish Market Management Unit chairman Francis Aketch said that although the two governments have engaged each other before, the situation is yet to normalise.

Mr Aketch said Kenyan traders managed to export part of their fish consignment from Busia border through different arrangements.

“Given that Congolese fish traders are not being targeted by Ugandan authorities, we are letting them come to this border and transport the fish to DRC where they sell and bring us the money,” he said.

He estimated that fish worth Sh65 million had already gone bad, adding that they managed to salvage produce worth Sh135 million.

The traders are now demanding protection and freedom to do business in Uganda and the DRC.

nochunge@standardmedia.co.ke    

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