Kenyan fishermen and businessmen are counting losses after Ugandan authorities blocked them from transporting fish worth Ksh200 million to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through their territory.
The move by Uganda hit them by a surprise, breaking a norm that has been in existence for over 13 years.
The salted fish, according to media reports, are rotting in stores at the Busia border after Uganda’s Fisheries Protection Unit banned Kenyan fish exporters from the country.
“Kenyan fish traders who find themselves in Uganda are now being arrested and prosecuted,” said Busia Cross Border Traders secretary Reuben Khayofu.
According to Ugandan authorities, Kenyans have been stealing their fish from Lake Kyoga and Lake George. On the other hand, Kenyan traders claim that they source thair fish from Lake Turkana.
“We get our fish from Lake Turkana but the Ugandan military claims the fish is from Ugandan lakes. They have told us not to step foot in their country. They have labeled us unwanted guests,” Khayofu said as quoted by The Standard.
Khayofu claims that in October, the authorities in Uganda impounded their four lorries at Mpondwe border with fish worth Ksh50 million.
“The Fisheries Protection Unit of Uganda claims the fish we export to Congo is immature. They have also claimed the fish is from Ugandan lakes, smuggled to Kenya, processed, and repackaged before it is exported. We have tried to explain to them how wrong they are but they are adamant. We are incurring huge losses as the fish remain in the stores. The fish have started rotting,” said Khayofu.
Western Regional Commissioner Esther Maina said efforts are underway to resolve the conflict, accusing the Ugandan authorities of being malicious.
“I wish to state that the fish that was impounded is from Kenya, from Lake Turkana, and not Ugandan lakes as has been claimed. The traders have been exporting fish to DR Congo for the last 13 years and there has never been a problem. We wonder what suddenly changed,” Ms Maina said.
“The stalemate has subjected Kenyan fish traders to a lot of suffering. This push and pull between the two governments is unhealthy. It is likely to affect the good ties Kenya and Uganda have enjoyed for decades.”
Ms Maina accused the Ugandan side of reneging on agreements, something that has not only hurt Kenyan traders but also fishermen, who are frequently arrested and charged in Uganda.
“We have had several meetings with them but they have always reneged on the agreements we have reached. They are not willing to implement anything both sides have agreed on. I urge our traders to remain calm as we resolve the matter. The Kenyan government is keen on resolving the matter and we will soon get a lasting solution. Talks between representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their Ugandan counterparts are at an advanced stage. We hope the matter will be resolved amicably,” said Maina.