Fish worth Sh200 million rots in Busia over Kenya-Uganda row

Irate fish exporters address the press in Busia town on November 8, 2021. Fish valued at Sh200million destined for DRC now rotting in Busia stores over Kenya-Uganda trade bottlenecks. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

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

The traders said their salted fish, with a total value of Sh200 million, has started rotting in stores at the Busia border after Uganda’s Fisheries Protection Unit banned them from stepping foot in the country.

The traders have been exporting fish to DRC by road, through Uganda, since 2008. The only other alternative would be air transport, which is expensive.

"Kenyan fish traders who find themselves in Uganda are now being arrested and prosecuted," said Busia Cross Border Traders Secretary Reuben Khayofu.

The bone of contention is the source of fish the Kenyans are exporting to DRC. Ugandan authorities accused the Kenyans of stealing their fish, from Lake Kyoga and Lake George, a claim the traders have denied. They said they source their fish from Lake Turkana.

“We get our fish from Lake Turkana but the Ugandan military claims the fish is from Ugandan lakes. They have told us not to step foot in their country. They have labelled us unwanted guests," Khayofu told The Standard on Thursday.

He said things went haywire on October 1, when Ugandan security agencies at Mpondwe border in Kasese District impounded their four lorries transporting fish valued at Sh50 million to DR Congo.

“The Fisheries Protection Unit of Uganda claims the fish we export to Congo is immature. They have also claimed the fish is from Ugandan lakes, smuggled to Kenya, processed, and repackaged before it is exported. We have tried to explain to them how wrong they are but they are adamant. We are incurring huge losses as the fish remain in the stores. The fish have started rotting,” said Khayofu.

Ugandan officials have in the past arrested, detained and prosecuted Kenyan fishermen whom they have accused of fishing in their waters in Lake Victoria. 

In most cases of the arrests, done by the Ugandan military, canoes and other fishing gear belonging to the Kenyans, have been confiscated.

Western Regional Commissioner Esther Maina acknowledged the existence of a row between Kenya and Uganda over the fish Ugandan security forces confiscated.

"The stalemate has subjected Kenyan fish traders to a lot of suffering," Maina said.

She said their efforts to have the Ugandan forces release the four lorries they impounded at Mpondwe on October 1 have been fruitless.

"I wish to state that the fish that was impounded is from Kenya, from Lake Turkana, and not Ugandan lakes as has been claimed. The traders have been exporting fish to DR Congo for the last 13 years and there has never been a problem. We wonder what suddenly changed," Ms Maina said.

Emily Akumu, who had been a fish trader for 20 years, said the over 700 exporters have the requisite documents to sell their products in DRC. 

"That notwithstanding, any Kenyan trader found on Ugandan roads is arrested, beaten up, detained, and their fish confiscated. It is a sad state of affairs," said Akumu.

Mwajuma Ibrahim accused the Kenyan government of not doing much to end the crisis.

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