Escalation in east DRC puts Uganda on alert

Saturday February 24 2024

Between September 2023 and January 2024, Uganda received more than 35,900 Congolese asylum seekers, according to the UNHCR.



Security agencies in Uganda are on high alert following renewed fighting in the restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has seen disruption of business between the two countries, an influx of refugees, and fears that the war could spill over across the border.

Since January, fighting between the Congolese national army and the M23 rebel group in the North Kivu Province has seen thousands of civilians displaced, with many trekking into Uganda, and dozens killed. The fears are that the regional capital, Goma, could soon fall into the hands of the rebels, as was the case in 2012, which could endanger its two million residents.

Uganda’s Defence Public Information Officer (spokesperson) Brig Felix Kulaigye said the army has increased surveillance and deployment around the common border to avert any violence spillover.

Read: Uganda denies supporting M23 rebels

“When there is a war in one country, it affects the neighbours both economically and socially. Currently, there are crossings by people from DRC into Uganda, but the UPDF are in charge. We are ensuring that our side of the border is secure, no matter what goes on inside DRC,” he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recorded an increase in the number of refugees entering the country.

Between September 2023 and January 2024, Uganda received more than 35,900 Congolese asylum seekers, according to the UNHCR.

The agency said they are monitoring the situation to ensure partners are on the ground and prepared in case of an influx.

“We’re on standby to scale up our capacity should the situation require us to do so. In the settlements, we are also scaling up capacity.

We are ensuring that life-saving services get closer to the refugees in distant zones where new arrivals are received,” the agency said.


The government maintains its call for more support from the donor community in the face of an increase in the number of refugees from the DRC against meagre resources.

Uganda is currently home to at least 1.6 million refugees from South Sudan, Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, and Eritrea.

Hillary Onek, minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, said that escalation of fighting in Eastern DRC has increased the pressure on the country as more refugees are expected to come in.

Uganda considers DRC a key market and the two countries kicked off a joint construction of three key roads that are poised to improve trade between them.

Read: Uganda scraps visa rule for DRC citizens

Construction of the roads by Uganda firm Dott Services, however, stalled due to insecurity in the areas they are supposed to pass.

According to a new Performance of the Economy report released on Thursday by Uganda’s Finance Ministry, the DRC received the largest share of Uganda’s exports among the EAC partner states at 24.2 percent of the total exports to the region.

Kampala exports to Kinshasa include manufactured products like construction materials like cement, iron bars, iron sheets, beers, and bottled water. Others include palm oil, rice, sugar, refined petroleum, baked goods, and cosmetics.

In 2022 according to data from Uganda’s trade ministry, total trade between DRC and Uganda had increased from $479.17 million in 2016 to $687.1 million in 2021, a growth of over $200 million in five years.

According to the Uganda Manufacturers Association, some of their members who have been exporting products to DRC, especially by road have suspended operations to that market temporarily. These include steel and cement manufacturers and some traders from Kampala.

The Ministry of Trade, on Thursday, said in a statement that it was in the meantime scouting for alternative markets for the traders and manufacturers with a focus on East and Central Africa.

“We are also hopeful that our national airline, Uganda Airlines, which flies directly to the DRC capital Kinshasa, will soon start operating cargo services. Manufacturers are advised to embrace them,” the ministry said.

According to Thaddeus Musoke the chairperson of the Kampala City Traders Association, there are meetings between them and the government on the safety of Uganda traders in DRC following a series of incidents where some members have lost goods and lives to militias in Eastern DRC.

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