Kenya closes porous routes on Uganda border over smuggling

Thursday March 23 2023
one-stop border point in Uganda’s Busia District

A man carrying cereals on a bicycle through the one-stop border point in Uganda’s Busia District after Kenya closed illegal porous border points. PHOTO | MONITOR

By Daily Monitor

Mr Emmanuel Karani, 55, has two wives across the border in Kenya and another wife on the Ugandan side of the border. However, he is one of the many residents of Uganda’s Busia district who have been affected after Kenya closed all porous routes.

Over the weekend, Nairobi closed the Kenya-Uganda border in Busia District, which includes 57 kilometres of porous borders and over 200 illegal routes stretching from Lake Victoria in Majanji to River Malaba in Buteba Sub-County.

Subsequently, the usually busy border outpost of Sofia and Marachi, which thrived on illicit trade across the two borders, remains deserted as Kenya maintained a huge security presence to curtail illegal border movement.

Mr Karani, who was speaking at one of his homes on the Ugandan side of the border, said he has greatly been affected by the development because he would easily move across and check on his two families.

A revenue officer from Kenya’s Busia County government

A revenue officer from Kenya’s Busia County government collects tax from a trader who brought goods into the country from Uganda using an unofficial route. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

In trouble


“When I saw this (Sunday) morning Kenya deploying police and the General Service Unit officers, which was followed by total stoppage of all movement through the porous routes, I realised I was in trouble,” Mr Karani said.

Kenya’s Busia County Commissioner Ruto Kipchumba explained why they had deployed a multi-sectoral team of security personnel along all the porous border routes.

“The deployment is meant to curtail illicit activities of smuggling which were causing huge revenue losses to the Kenyan government and putting the lives of their nationals at risk due to consumption of substandard goods that were being smuggled into the country,” he said.

Human trafficking

Mr Ruto said human trafficking — especially of aliens — through the porous borders, was putting the security of Kenyans on edge, directing that all people crossing the borders must pass through the one-stop border point for purposes of promoting sanity at the border.

Mr Ruto said they had started with deployments in Sofia, Marachi and Buteba and would expand to other points as soon as more officers are available.

But Mr Karani, who is a resident of Sofia, which is one of the Villages lying at the border, said the closure is a “tall order” for him and other residents who have families in both Kenya and Uganda.

“Sometimes I leave my Ugandan home late in the night and use less than 10 minutes to reach my other home in Kenya. I am wondering how I will be walking for over three kilometres through the immigration point to check on my wives and children who are across the two borders,” he said.

According to Mr Karani, Kenyans and Ugandans living across the borders are culturally connected because they have shared the same language for many years, while such porous borders were strategic to connect with relatives.

“When you want to visit a relative across the border, you just walk from anywhere to meet them," Mr Karani said.

People moving in and out of Kenya

People moving in and out of Kenya using the unofficial route at the porous Busia border on September 21, 2022. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

Shared resources

Kenyans and Ugandans at the border share several resources, including water sources, grazing areas and farms.

“Can you imagine that all the Ugandans in Sofia fetch water in Kenya because the water sources on the Ugandan side are too far away?” he asked.

Mr Michael Kibwika, the Busia Resident District Commissioner, said Uganda had welcomed Nairobi’s move to have the porous borders closed, adding that Uganda too has been losing huge revenues to rampant smuggling while human trafficking was “at its worst”.

Ms Aisha Nadunga, who operates a tomato stall at the Sofia border, said her business has been nrgatively affected by the closure of the porous routes since most of her customers were Kenyans.

No customers

“Since yesterday (Friday) when Kenya announced the closure, I have not seen any customer come to buy my tomatoes, raising the fear that all my merchandise will rot away yet I acquired a loan to start the small business,” she said.

Ms Farida Khainza, who sells bananas, is also worried of losing her stock since all bunches have started ripening albeit with no single buyer in sight.

Mr Sadat Nerigimana, who operates a grocery store in Sofia Village, said since the deployment of security across the border, he has not been able to make any sales because the majority of his customers were Kenyan nationals.

Mr Gerald Ojambo, who operates a restaurant at the border that sells roast goat meat, said he would normally slaughter eight goats a day for his customers but he is now slaughtering only three.

He said he has 10 workers at his restaurant, but because of low business, he is considering laying off seven of them.

Passengers arriving in Kenya from Uganda

Passengers arriving in Kenya from Uganda at the Busia on September 21, 2022. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

Using official entry point

But as the locals are complaining, many people crossing to Kenya and Uganda are quickly adopting to the use of the main gazetted entry point.

Ms Alysia Namuyonga, one of the women involved in the cross-border trade, said she had been using porous routes, fearing that if she used the one-stop border point, she would be arrested, which has not been the case.

Mr Hassan Mukose, a boda boda rider, said traders carrying small quantities of goods across the border are now moving freely through the gazetted border point without their goods being impounded.

Because of free movement of goods, he added, more people are being encouraged to pass through the main border point other than through the porous borders that have several challenges.

Mr Sulaiman Benjura, a trader at the border, says because of the single gate being used by people moving to Kenya and Uganda, there is a lot of congestion. He urged the Uganda Revenue Authority to open other gates in order to allow easy movement between both East African countries.