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Uganda border points a safe haven for cunning smugglers

Busia security agents display bhang with a street value of Sh4.9 million at Busia police station, the substance was intercepted at Kenya/Uganda border, Busia headed to Mombasa. [photo: Robert Amalemba/Standard]

The war against smuggling has remained a tough one for the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) due to the porous Busia, Malaba and Lwakhakha border points.

A lot of counterfeit products are smuggled into the country from Uganda every day across the borders, denying the taxman revenue.

The smugglers also sneak into the country illegal firearms and ammunition from Uganda, posing a serious security threat, especially in Mt Elgon region.

The region has many illegal firearms, which criminals use to maim innocent people while stealing coffee.

Investigations by the Sunday Standard established that a majority of these products coming to Kenya through the porous borders are counterfeits.

Alcoholic beverages

These borders are Sofia and Mayenje in Busia town, Malaba, Chepkube and Walanga in Lwakhakha.

Some of the products that have flooded the Kenyan market from Uganda are alcoholic beverages such as Senator Keg, Guinness, Tusker, sugar, Tiger and Golden Lion brand of batteries, cigarettes and processed coffee.

Guinness in Kenya is sold at Sh180 and the one imported from Uganda is sold at Sh100 and according to the label, has a higher alcoholic content.

Senator Keg goes for Sh70 in the Kenyan market and the one from Uganda is sold at Sh40 along the border. It also reportedly has a higher alcoholic content.

The sugar brought into the country through the borders is repackaged and re-branded by local supermarkets.

Some local sugar millers also import the cheap commodity and repackage it as their brands before taking it to the market.

“Majority of sugarcane factories in Kenya are struggling to stay afloat because they do not have sufficient cane to crush. Currently, the sugar millers that were struggling have a lot of sugar in their factories within a short period of time. We supplied the sugar to them,” said a trader.

“We normally bring sugar to the country at night via the Lwakhakha border, Malaba town or at Sofia. Sugar is placed at the bottom of the lorry and on top, we pack  pineapple or oranges. Customs officials charge us normal taxes for fruits in case we pass the border during the day.”

Stumbling block

Sometimes, they say, they bribe their way through.

Lwandanyi Coffee Farmers Association chairman Job Butali says coffee cartels are now processing Grade 3 coffee and sneaking it through the Lwakhakha border where they pack it in sachets.

Even though the police and customs officials say they have beefed up surveillance at the border points, smuggling of drugs into the country is the order of the day. For instance, bhang that is sold in Luanda, Siaya, Kisumu, Kakamega, Majengo, Bungoma, Busia and Lwakhakha finds its way into Kenya through the porous borders.

The drugs are disguised as foodstuffs. A KRA official at Lwakhakha border, who sought anonymity, told the Sunday Standard that it is very hard to detect the drugs because they are hidden under foodstuff among other items. “The police have also been a stumbling block in the fight to weed out the cartels.

“They have a mutual relationship to the extent that when we try to pursue the traffickers after crossing into Kenya, the police escort them to safer grounds,” the KRA official said.

Recently, police officers seized a consignment of illicit alcohol packed in sachets with a street value of Sh250,000.

The smugglers were nabbed between Korinda and Road Block stretch.

Busia OCPD Makau Masai said the police are committed to bringing the illegal trade to an end, saying the cartels use Toyota Probox vehicles to do the business.

“A Probox car can carry goods that can fill up a pick-up truck. The porous borders are problematic to man since we have inadequate police officers,” he said.

The KRA recently destroyed a consignment of contraband goods worth sh12.5 million that had been sneaked into Kenya through the Busia Customs Office.

This was the first time the taxman was burning counterfeit products that are normally seized at the border.

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