14 June 2019

Uganda: Business At Katuna Remains Slow Despite Border Reopening

The Katuna border weekly market popularly known as World Market inside Uganda remained dull and abandoned because of the absence of Rwandans, who are the major customers.

The chairperson of Burambira cell in Katuna Town Council where the market operates, Mr Justus Karambuzi, said on Wednesday that they had hoped by opening Gatuna border for heavy cargo vehicles, Rwandans would be allowed to access the market.

"More than 1,000 people used to converge at this weekly World Market, but ever since the Rwanda government stopped its people from entering Uganda, the market has remained dull with less than 500 people because majority of the customers were Rwandans," Mr Karambuzi said.

"We thought that by Rwanda opening its border at Gatuna, it would allow citizens to participate in cross-border trade, but few Rwandans that managed to escape and crossed to the World Market told us that armed security personnel have been deployed at borders to stop Rwandans from entering Uganda," he added.

Rwanda government reopened Gatuna border post for heavy cargo trucks on Monday.

It was closed in February to pave way for construction of the one-stop border post. Mr Karambuzi said his business of selling furniture such as office chairs, doors and windows has been affected.

He used to make about Shs1.5 million per market day, but since the Rwandans were stopped from entering Uganda, he now earns less than Shs100,000 on the market day.

Ms Jane Tumukunde, another trader, said many traders had stocked a lot of merchandise thinking that the opening of the border would automatically allow Rwandas to enter Uganda.

They were, however, frustrated and by midday, some of them were seen parking and leaving the market area because there were no customers.

"When the situation was still normal, by 11am, I would be counting big sums of Rwandan francs, but today at the same time, I have not received any money," Ms Tumukunde said on Wednesday.

Mr James Bahati, who runs the market, said since March, he has been collecting between Shs15,000 and Shs30,000 instead of more than Shs500,000 he used to collect when Rwandans were still participating in cross-border trade.

Rwanda nationals speak

Four Rwandan nationals that crossed to buy food stuffs from the market before the Rwandan security personnel sealed off the border routes said they passed through swamps because the known border entry was manned by armed security.

They said many Rwandans that were heading to the market were blocked and ordered back by the Rwandan security personnel in the morning hours of Wednesday.

The Mayor for Katuna Town Council, Mr Nelson Nshangabasheija, said the East African Community and the Government of Ugandan should investigate the reasons why the Government of Rwanda announced the reopening of Gatuna border with Uganda but stopped its people from participating in the cross-border trade or crossing into Uganda to visit their relatives as it has been in the past.

Background

On February 28, the Government of Rwanda stopped cargo trucks from entering the country through Gatuna border post on grounds that they were constructing the one-stop border post.

On June 7, the Commissioner General of Rwanda Revenue Authority, Mr Pascal Bizimana Ruganintwali, issued an announcement of the temporary opening of Gatuna border post from June 10 to June 22.

But the Rwandan government on Tuesday said the travel advisory it had issued to its citizens remained in place over fears of their possible arrests, torture and incarceration by Uganda authorities.

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