Ugandan authorities have asked businesses to brace for a “tough week” as Kenya, its main import route, holds elections.
While there has been no credible evidence of security threat that could disrupt operations on the Northern Corridor, traders are being advised to take precautions, either by delaying their imports or choosing the alternative Central Corridor.
Uganda also advised its citizens living and working in Kenya to take caution, after the US issued a travel advisory to those travelling to the lakeside city of Kisumu.
This comes even as President Uhuru Kenyatta and his officials have assured the region of peaceful elections. Even the top presidential contenders William Ruto and Raila Odinga have promised peace - and to concede defeat if the polls are free and fair.
While addressing the 22nd Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State in Arusha last month, President Kenyatta said that nothing would go wrong.
Interior minister Fred Matiang’i has also said the security machinery has been mobilised to secure the elections and the country.
Uganda’s Foreign minister Henry Okello Oryem said he hopes elections end peacefully but Uganda was preparing for any eventuality a Plan B involves stocking up on supplies and rerouting shipments through Tanzania.
Uganda’s petroleum products are transported through the Northern Corridor from the Mombasa port.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the country uses five million litres daily. Kampala’s proposal to divert cargo to Dar es Salaam has, therefore, raised fears of supply shortages. Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita) says it expects at least 4,000 transit cargo containers during the election week through Mombasa, meaning their safe passage depends on how the election is conducted and how the people react to the results.
“Diverting cargo to other ports can only be done at the port of origin. We had already instructed the shipping lines to deliver cargo at Mombasa,” said Mr Jemba Kanakulya Mulondo, Kacita board member in charge of security and environment. “That’s why we are asking for security. Kenya should provide armed escorts for goods destined for Uganda during the voting week.”
The 2007/8 post-election violence in Kenya disrupted the Northern Corridor operations leading to huge losses for Rwandan and Ugandan businesses, who are still chasing compensation.
“Despite the courts ordering Kenya to pay us $47 million in compensation, we have never been paid. This is the reason we are asking for assurances,” said Mr Mulondo.
The Ugandan traders are also asking Kenya Revenue Authority and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to waive tariffs and charges as they expect port activity to slump.
Data from KPA shows that Uganda is the biggest user of Mombasa port, accounting for 85 percent of its transit cargo. “KPA collects handling charges of $700 per 40ft container and $600 for 20ft transit cargo after nine days. This should be waived,” he added.
John Bosco Kalisa, the East African Business Council CEO, said, “The business community expects Kenya to have a smooth transition and avoid a repeat of what happened in 2007.”
“There is no need to worry about Kenya’s elections. The country is resilient and hungry for trade with its neighbours and therefore we expect a smooth transition,” said Jas Bedi, chairman, Kenya Private Sector Alliance.
Kenya and Tanzania are two EAC partner states that have held elections every five years offering a major lesson on democracy in the region.
The KPA acting managing director John Mwangemi has assured the business community that they have put in place measures to ensure business continuity during and after election.
“We have engaged with our customers in the transit countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and reassured them of our preparedness to offer uninterrupted services,” said Mr Mwangemi.
“With more than 30 vessels planned to dock in Mombasa port before August 13, this shows the confidence they have in our security and we have arranged to ensure all our staff 24-hour services.”
Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo and Luke Anami