Although the Government has made it hard for people to smuggle goods across the borders, the vice is not about to end. Across the Kenya-Uganda border, there is booming petty trade, which fuels the smuggling of goods from one country to the other.
Even with the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE), children as young as five years take days off school to participate in the petty trade.
Disabled persons ridding on wheel chairs are not excluded from the trade. They find it easy to get goods across because border officials are hesitant to apprehend them, lest the public interprets it as harassment.
Commonly traded goods include polythene bags, cement, SuperMatch cigarettes, wheat flour, cooking oil, radio batteries and salt.
Issa Kabaka, a disabled person, says he earns sh5,000 per day from the trade.
He adds that he uses his wheelchair to carry goods for other people across the border.
But Kabaka says the disabled persons are not as lucky as the bodaboda cyclists, who are able to cross the border several times and carry goods in huge amounts.
Godfrey Oundo of the National Chamber of Commerce says cross-border trade is not profitable, but adds that for those who carry it out, it is a means of survival.
"Radio batteries fetch the traders a profit of sh1,500, a kilogramme of sugar may fetch them a profit of sh500, while a bar of soap may fetch them sh500," Oundo says.
He, however, adds that in the disguise of carrying out petty business, traders smuggle large amounts of goods across the border, making the country lose billions of shillings in tax revenue.
Abel Kagumire, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) eastern region acting manager, said the authority recovers about sh730m every month in smuggled goods.
Records also show that the Government loses sh2.5b in cross-border smuggling.
But the factors favouring smuggling are not about to be eliminated.
Kagumire said many times, smuggling involves people who are well connected in security and government circles.
"In fact, they make threatening calls and order for seized goods to be released immediately," he said
Kagumire also noted that some clearing agents had infiltrated the URA systems to help smugglers.
"The clearing agents connive with some customs officials to make false documentation, misclassification, wrong description and under-declaration of quantities and concealments," Kagumire said.
He added that there are people with relatives across the borders with whom they connive to carry out the smuggling.
The relatives visit each other every day and carry goods across the borders disguised as gifts.
"When I visit my relatives in Kenya and they offer me sugar, soap and paraffin, do you expect me to pay revenue for the items at the border? It is not our fault that we were separated by colonial boundaries," said Mzee John Emoi of Malaba town council.
Those who get involved in cross-border smuggling do it for reasons ranging from cultural background to economic gains.
Paresh Vekarta of Bhagatt Hardware said the Kenyan economy is very good, which forces people to smuggle goods from there to Uganda.
Joseph Bbosa of East Wood shop, which deals in clothes, blamed smuggling on the high inflation rate. He said people preferred to smuggle cheap clothes from Kenya.
Kagumire says URA's fight to eradicate smuggling is hindered by the lack of resources to patrols at the border area.
"The anti-smuggling unit lacks enough resources to conduct massive operations at all major routes used by the smugglers to enter the country," he said.
Illiteracy and poor infrastructure across the borders, and the belief by people that it is their right to carry goods across are also fueling the vice.
However, Busia district Police commander Bob Kagarura said the rate of smuggling had gone down compared to the previous years.
"Today, we deploy Police officers across the un-gazetted entry points to apprehend the culprits. We have successfully arrested and prosecuted many," Kagarura said.
He said three cases, two involving the smuggling of SuperMatch cigarettes and one of polythene bags, had successfully been prosecuted in the courts of law since July 2011.
Kagarura noted that the use of government vehicles in transporting smuggled goods was a big challenge.
"Recently, a government ambulance was used to smuggle SuperMatch cigarettes. We impounded it at Busitema checkpoint," he said.
But Kagumire said cross-borders smuggling was not about to end unless the Government constructs a wall around the country and installs surveillance cameras to monitor entry points.
Oundo also noted that smuggling is hard to weed out because many people have no jobs, lack capital to pay taxes and variation in the dollar exchange rates.
How goods are smuggled across the border
Because the border patrol officers have learnt most of the tricks the smugglers use to conceal goods, the culprits have resorted to bribing the officers to get the goods across.
"A small amount of goods is first successfully smuggled across the border. The patrol commander then receives a phone call reporting that illegal goods have been smuggled across. He dispatches all his officers to go after them, creating way for the bigger consignment," explains one smuggler.
Sometimes the goods are hidden in the streams near the borders.
"There are big openings below the streams where the merchandise is stuffed. It is usually there for hours or days. After the operatives have finished their searches, the goods are pulled out, loaded on vehicles and transported into the country," he says.
Simon Masaba, John Semakula, Jeff Lule, Andrew Ssenyonga and Faustine Odeke