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Tension as Uganda impounds Kenyan fish exports to DRC

 Fish harvested from cages in Lake Victoria, November 2015. [Isiah Gwengi, Standard]

Ugandan authorities have confiscated huge consignments of fish from Kenya and South Sudan on transit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), renewing a trade tiff between Nairobi and Kampala which started in October 2021.

Trucks from Kenya and South Sudan carrying fish worth Sh210 million are allegedly being held by the Uganda Fish Protection Unit (UFPU) at the Mpondwe border in Uganda, according to exporters.

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) has written to the Ugandan government to protest against the move to force trucks to offload fish destined for DRC’s Bukavu, Kisangani and Goma areas.

In a letter dated June 4, 2024, to Ugandan Minister for Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives Francis Mwebesa, KNCCI criticised Kampala for going against a March 22, 2022 agreement.

“This constitutes a non-tariff barrier and contravenes the joint communique signed between Nairobi and Kampala on March 22,” says the letter by KNCCI President Erick Rutto.

Economic losses

Dr Rutto said the Ugandan authorities at the Mpondwe border have been impounding fish shipments originating from Lake Turkana and undergoing value addition in Busia, Kenya, since May 27.

“This action constitutes a significant non-tariff barrier, disrupting our trade and causing substantial economic losses,” he said in the letter to the Ugandan authorities.

Dr Rutto has also written to the Chief Executive of the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Olive Kigongo, to protest the move, saying it undermines the spirit of cooperation and mutual benefits of the two chambers.

Fish exporters claimed that the Ugandan government has been forcing them to declare the goods as Ugandan instead of allowing them transit to Rwanda and DCR Congo.

KNCCI estimates that Kenya’s fish exports to the DRC amount to approximately 400 tonnes monthly, valued at $1.15 million (Sh147.2 million).

Traders said the March 2022 communique between Nairobi and Kampala at the Busia border stipulated that fish from Kenya would transit through Ugandan territory without hindrance.

Busia Business Committee said the seizure of the fish by UFPU undermines the agreement and adversely impacts the Kenyan fishery sector, including exporters and families that make a livelihood from fishing.

“The fish is from Lake Turkana and since June 5, Uganda has denied the trucks exit at its Mpondwe border with DRC. They want us to offload at its border,” said Hassan Omar, the chairman of the Busia Business Committee.

He said Kenya exports 90 tonnes of fish from the fresh lakes of Turkana and Marsabit to DRC every day worth Sh15 million.

The traders said the ongoing non-tariff barriers imposed by UFPU against Kenya and South Sudanese fish in transit to DRC could descend into a full-blown trade war among the regional neighbours.

KNCCI Head of Policy Research and Advocacy Kiplimo Kigen said there was tension at the Busia after Kenyan traders threatened to bar Uganda trucks from crossing into Kenya.

“The issue is escalating and could lead to the disruption of traders along the Northern Corridor. We had to intervene to stop our members and their staff from blocking Ugandan trucks,” he said.

On Tuesday, we also established that several South Sudanese nationals were detained at the border, and their fish cargo was seized by the Ugandan authorities.

The chairperson of the South Sudanese Fisheries Traders Union (SSFTR) in DRC Congo said the UFPU seized their consignment at Mpondwe, and trucks offloaded at the Bwera customs market in Uganda.

“The reason UPU gave us is that they want to revive the Ugandan market at Bwera customs in Mpondwe,” said the SSFTR chairman, John Deng Munyuon.

He said the goods were in transit to DRC Congo’s Kasindi, adding that the standoff between their members and Uganda authorities at the border started on June 2.

“Currently, seven trucks detained at the border of Uganda and DCR Congo with fish valued at $1,27,000 (Sh16.3 million),” said Munyuon. 

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