Islands where smuggling insulates Kenyans from inflation


An overloaded boat which is the only means of transport ferries passengers with no safety jackets from Usenge mainland to Mageta Island [Collins Oduor, Standard]

A crowded passenger boat slows down as it approaches Mahanga Beach in Mageta Island, Siaya County.

A group of women eagerly wait for goods that the boat has brought.

A few minutes ago, the vessel was sailing from Lolui Island in Uganda that is barely 400 metres from Mageta.

In the boat is all manner of items, mostly foodstuffs, smuggled from Uganda. Bananas, cooking oil, sugar, vegetables and crates of alcohol fill the boat.

The goods are quickly offloaded. Traders who had paid for them in advance serve the over 8,000 residents of the island.

This illegal trade involving Kenyan and Ugandan traders in cahoots with rogue officials is a blessing to the islanders. It provides products that are expensive in Kenya but cheap in Uganda.

This has been the way of life here in Mageta for years. It is replicated in four other islands in Siaya.

According to residents of Mageta, boats from Uganda make about three trips every day to the shores. The situation has made life in Mageta, Oyamo, Sifu and Sirigombe islands affordable.

Joyce Akello, a Ugandan who sells bananas, says she has been in the trade for more than four years.

In Mageta, a kilo of sugar goes for Sh90. A bottle of Ugandan beer that costs between Sh220 and Sh250 in some parts of Nyanza, costs about Sh100 and Sh160.

Officials who have connections with businessmen allow the smuggling of large quantities of fish into Kenya while evading tax. In Busia, the price of fish is low but skyrockets when the fish reaches Kisumu.

At the border town of Busia, petrol from Uganda is available at about Sh120 a litre.

So lucrative is the business that cartels that operate at the border have hired several motorcyclists who use illegal routes to ferry items into waiting trucks parked in bushes.

Perhaps this can explain why a section of residents petitioned the government to let the island be part of Uganda.

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