It’s rough sailing fixing Kenya-Uganda sea trade
SHIPPING & LOGISTICS
By Harold Odhiambo | October 28th 2021
Three weeks ago, four trucks ferrying fish from Kenya to Democratic Republic of Congo were impounded by Uganda Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU).
According to FPU, the no-nonsense Ugandan entity that patrols Lake Victoria waters, the fish was worth Sh50 million (Sh1.5 billion Uganda shillings). It was seized at the Mpondwe border.
Immediately, tensions started to rise between Kenyan and Ugandan authorities, with all sorts of blame being traded.
On Monday, Deputy President William Ruto released a statement asking Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to facilitate the release of the detained Kenyans as well as the trucks full of fish that were being held by FPU.
Dr Ruto emphasised on the need to strengthen trade ties between the two countries.
The development was a fresh twist to the strain experienced when traders are moving goods between the two countries, especially by lake.
Kenyan traders interviewed by Shipping and Logistics complained of harassment by Ugandan officials especially at Ugandan ports.
Now, both countries are mulling ways to remove bottlenecks impeding flawless maritime trade amid a growing demand for exports and imports.
The two countries depend heavily on each other in terms of flow of goods. Ugandan ports take 80 per cent of exports from Kenya through Lake Victoria.
Countries such as DR Congo and Rwanda use Ugandan ports to import goods from Kenya. The Ugandan ship MV Kaawa and Kenya’s MV Uhuru transport several barrels of oil to Jinja and Port Bell through Lake Victoria routes.
Authorities and business people from the two countries claim that an unfavorable business environment created by the two countries threaten to stall maritime trade.
Those interviewed alleged that sometimes goods are blocked from accessing Ugandan or Kenyan markets even after they have been cleared by Kenya Revenue Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).
Both countries point an accusing finger at each other for failing to allow some goods to pass through their ports with sugar and fish among items that are constantly impounded.
When this writer visited Jinja Port last Saturday, the port was deserted. Only an empty wagon was waiting for oil from Kenya to transport it to the Jinja Storage Terminal operated by Uganda National Oil company.
A Ugandan tax official in Jinja told Shipping and Logistics that tough laws from Kenya have forced Uganda to export its sugar to Tanzania.
The official who sought anonymity since he is not authorised to speak to the press said Kenyan State operatives blocked several bags of sugar from entering Kenya from Uganda early in June this year, prompting investors to eye the Tanzanian market.
“There is need for the two countries to improve maritime trade for the benefit of all. The two depend on each other and should have flexible maritime laws,” said the official.
“Early this year, several tonnes of sugar were stuck at the port because of a disagreement between the two countries. The sugar was eventually exported to Tanzania. Kenya, though, is still our preferred destination.”
Another senior official from Ugandan Revenue Authority who also asked not to be named expressed optimism that the situation between the two countries will improve.
According to URA, Kenyan imports have kept ports in Uganda operational and placed them on a path to success.
“We receive fertilizer and oil from Kenya. These goods have kept our ports operational,” said the official.
He emphasised that Uganda is keen to engage with Kenyan officials to ensure there is flawless sea trade.
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