9 November 2012

Uganda: Traders Fret Over Kenya's Reluctance to Settle 2007 Post-Election Claims

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Post-election violence chaos (file photo).

Uganda and Rwandan traders are running out of patience with the delayed promise by the Kenyan government to compensate them for the loses they incurred during the 2007 Kenyan post-election violence.

A cross section of traders from Rwanda and Uganda say despite several attempts to have the matter settled including petitions at the highest level with President Mwai Kibaki, there is no breakthrough.

Early this year in January, the East African Business Council (EABC) board of directors held discussions with Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki over the same matter. According to Gideon Badagawa, Private Sector Foundation Uganda chief, Kibaki did not pronounce himself on payments but said "they would look into it".

Billions of shillings were lost in one of the most violent political scenes to hit Kenya in its post-independence era. Coffee trucks and other merchandise from Uganda and Rwanda were either burnt or stolen.

Kenya is headed for another election in about four months' time and the business community in hinterland East Africa is cautious about the reoccurrence of violence that would affect inland business.

Business owners who spoke to New Vision said such incidences and the delayed payments affects their business operations and make the smaller landlocked enterprises less competitive further crippling them.

But Badagawa said they are optimistic that once Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) compiles the list and provides evidence credible claimants, venue and nature of loss, the compensation will come through

"My understanding is that they are positive about it, but lets wait and see," said Badagawa.

But individual traders who have suffered the brunt of lost capital are less optimistic sighting the several failed lobbying and petitions.

There have been several attempts including a case filed in Nairobi high court with civil suit no.398 of 2009 for special and general damages "against the commissioner of police and the Attorney General.

This was after the traders failed to obtain assistance of the diplomatic offices in their home countries.

After the filing of the suit, Kenya's Attorney General intervened and requested that an amicable settlement be exploited. An inter-ministerial committee was constituted which was tasked to assess the credibility of the claim and exploit arbitral proceedings and negotiations.

The inter-ministerial committee executed an evaluation and verification audit on the traders' claims and all supporting evidence was provided.

"To our knowledge, the said committee completed its task at the beginning of 2011," read one communiqué from freight forwarders association in East Africa.

But to-date traders say there is nothing despite several pronouncements by high level Kenyan authorities including the president with traders now calling the pronouncements political statements.

They have cited international legal provisions that provide for compensation and protection of individuals involved in cross-border business.

"We have exhausted all avenues, and these events may occur again," said one dealer from Uganda. The violence or political uncertainty and other non-tariff barriers like road blocks and corruption are at the centre of creating an uncompetitive East Africa. The other is the slow process of implementing the various decisions that have already been agreed at the EAC level but are yet to be implemented, "thereby frustrating trade across the region."

In heads of state discussions, all agree that the several concerns of the private sector are many and known.

"We should focus on what actions need to be taken and by when to address them to enable the private sector play its rightful role in the EAC," said Kibaki during one of the recent discussions.

The traders are also worried that since Kenya is headed for another election, the environment will be uncertain.

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