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Ugandan traders flourish in Kenya

By | March 31st 2012

By Nanjinia Wamuswa

It is ten o’clock in the morning in the open-air market in Port Victoria, Budalangi. Smoke rises from many makeshift food kiosks and spirals towards the sky. Except for subdued voices and few movements the market is lifeless.

Ugandans off load their goods on arrival at the market. [Photo: Nanjinia Wamuswa/Standard]

Then from a distance, an engine roars. It grows louder and louder. And suddenly the dormant market, too, roars to life. Everyone rises and moves towards the lake.

A boat jam packed with people and goods moves towards the shore as potters dash into the water towards the boat and start offloading merchandise as visiting traders disembark, one by one. Soon more boats arrive and by now the market is a beehive of activity.

Welcome to Mulukoba market, otherwise known as Ugandan market because most of the traders and the goods exchanged here come from Uganda. Margaret Nasenya is a cereals trader from Uganda. For the past eight years she has been selling both raw and dried cassava, maize, beans, millet and sorghum.

To her, the market at Budalangi is a blessing. "In Uganda, business is not as good as it is here. There is a lot of maize and cassava and people there do not buy. But here I can sell several bags of maize and cassava every market day," she says.

Elizabeth Nanyama who specialises in jack fruits also says she makes more sales in Kenya than in Uganda. "There is no good market for jack fruits in Uganda because many people have these trees in their homesteads," she says.

Nanyama didn’t know Kenyans love jack fruits till two years ago when she visited Busia town and saw that it was in high demand. She returned home and brought some jack fruits to sell in Kenya. The sales were more than she had hoped for.

Traders from both countries speak of the warm relationship among themselves.

"It is the reason this market will keep growing," says Michael Barasa an orange dealer from Samia. It takes visiting traders almost one hour in the water to cover the two-kilometre journey from Uganda to the Kenya.

The boats, some over 10 metres long, carry at least 30 people. According to Evans Mukiru, one of the boat operators, the boats ferry more goods than people.

"We carry over a tonne of goods. But you know we travel in water and anything slight can cause a disaster. Safety of our passengers is uppermost," he says.

Currency of choice

According to Mukiru individuals pay Sh100, while goods are charged separately.

The Kenyan shilling is the currency of choice. "We use Kenyan money, but change it when we go back home," said another trader.

On arrival, visiting traders first pay tax to the Port Victoria Town Council. According to an official at the market who did not want to be named, they charge the Ugandan traders tax according to the quantity of the goods. "Sometimes they pay as little as Sh10," he said.

The council also inspects the goods during offloading to ensure the traders to do not bring in illegal goods.

Goods from Uganda include maize, cassava, millet, sorghum, jack fruits, firewood, pots, potatoes, fish, vegetables like sukuma wiki, spinach, cassava flour, bananas, sugar cane and clothing materials, among others. From Kenya, there are oranges, coconuts grown in areas around the port, clothes, tomatoes and furniture. A 2Kg tin of maize currently trades at Sh70, while the same tin of dried cassava goes for Sh80.

Kenyan traders say the reason they do not export more goods to Uganda is because the areas around Port Victoria lies on the leeward side of the hills around the lake and there are a few farming activities going on.

However, traders from Uganda and Kenya lament that although they pay tax to Port Victoria Town Council, the council does not care about their welfare and it has not put up stalls for them. The visitors’ boats are also made to stop at a distance in the water, forcing them to carry their goods through water.

"Loaders are charging us a lot of money because they move in the water. We need the council to build a dock," said a Ugandan trader. The market is held twice in a week – Mondays and Thursdays.

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