By Melodie Mukansonera
Traders and residents of Kabale and Isingiro districts in south western Uganda have lost hope that their businesses will ever revive following the consequences of Uganda’s security services’ policy of illegal arrests, illegal detentions (incommunicado), and torture of Rwandan nationals.
According to observers, the consequences that have worried not only traders in Kabale and Isingiro, but businesses throughout Uganda followed when Kigali took steps “to protect her citizens against such arbitrary harassment.”
Kigali, declaring that it could not guarantee the safety of Rwandans once across the border into Uganda, early in March 2019 issued an advisory to her citizens against further travel to Uganda. “Ugandans have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention with no recourse to the law, and not access to consular visits,” said former Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera in announcing the advisory.
He said up to a thousand Rwandans were languishing in Ugandan detention in such illegal ways.
Rwandans heeded the advice, all indications show, and stopped going to Uganda.
“That is when Ugandan businesses and traders lost a lot of market,” analysts say.
Now the traders especially in the Kabale to Isingiro areas are expressing anger against President’s Museveni’s policies with Rwanda which have not only affected their trade but also lives of their families. “We’ve been pleading to President Museveni to normalize relations with Rwanda so that we can resume trade. But little seems to be changing,” said a citizen of Isingiro District that spoke on conditions of anonymity as he holds a leadership position in the district.
“But we are only hearing more hostile pronouncements from officials!” he lamented.
The chairman of the Katuna Cross Border Traders Association, Franco Korinaku, was last week quoted in the media saying that traders have lost patience and hope as the reopening of the adjacent Gatuna (the Rwandan side) Border Post that was closed in February last year remains uncertain.
He added on that more than 90 per cent of the traders that used to operate at Katuna Border Post have relocated to other urban areas like Kabale, Mbarara and Ntungamo Districts, while others closed their businesses altogether.
The situation is such that, according to Kabale Resident District Commissioner Darius Nandinda, Ugandans have been involved in smuggling using porous entries to enter Rwanda. Such illegal activities are why, according to Kabale business communities, President Museveni should endeavor to do his part “to solve problems with the neighbors.”
However, in May last year, President Museveni went on record publicly encouraging desperate Ugandans to resort to smuggling after Rwanda closed its borders. Rwandan officials on their part have been “very adamant in taking a very strong stance against smuggling,” security officials say. The result is that many Ugandan smugglers are realizing that can’t work.
Services have also been affected by deteriorated trade, says the mayor of Katuna Town Council, Nelson Nshangabasheija. He last week told journalists that there has been much loss of local revenue, and that “they need special funding to be able to deliver services to the residents.”
“Our revenue was from trading licenses, day and night parking fees and daily market fees. The border has been closed for a year and four months now, we are struggling to offer services to the community. It is our appeal that government considers special funding for us,” Nshangabasheija said.
According to economists, Uganda has continued to register a trade decline of approximately US$166 million every month since beginning of March last year when Kigali announced measures to protect her citizens against harassment or persecution in Uganda.