Ugandan Traders to Strike Over South Sudan Debt

By Sadab Kitatta Kaaya,

ugandan_trader-ee908A group of Ugandan traders has dragged the East African Community (EAC) before the regional court seeking to block South Sudan’s entry into the bloc in Nov 2013 (Photo Reuters)

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Upset that the government of South Sudan has failed to settle claims totalling $49m worth of goods and services supplied to it, Ugandan traders have threatened to go on strike today.

The strike is part of a long list of aggressive reactions the traders have planned to force resolution of an issue that goes seven years back.

“We are going to close all border points between Uganda and South Sudan and block all traffic moving to South Sudan as well as those coming from the other side into Uganda,” Robert Mwanje, a member of the Grain council of Uganda, one of the affected institutions, said during a press briefing at Fairway hotel last week.

Fred Bahati, from the federation of bus owners, announced that the federation of bus owners would also close the Kampala-Juba route until the South Sudanese government commits to clear the outstanding debt with accrued interest.

The traders wanted to go on strike as early as end of February. Those plans were, however, called off, after President Yoweri Museveni promised to contact his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir to have the matter settled.

It is said that Museveni directed Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka to get in touch with her South Sudanese counterpart Kosti Manibe Ngai, to have the matter resolved quickly. After their engagements, Ngai said that her government was still verifying their claims before any payments could be made.

The traders say they are not taking any more excuses.

“They [South Sudan] have been giving that same excuse for over six years. We have come to understand that this is a [deliberate] ploy by the government of South Sudan to condemn us to untold suffering, ridicule, embarrassment and death through psychological torture,” Chris Kaijuka, the chairman of the Uganda-South Sudan grain traders and suppliers’ association, said in a statement.

South Sudan remains Uganda’s main export destination. Ugandan exports to the world’s newest country total close to $20m monthly. Plans by the traders to disrupt the trade between the two countries could hurt Uganda’s economy if the situation surrounding the demonstration gets out of control.

The traders say they are to mobilise Ugandans to isolate South Sudan nationals and businesses.

“Don’t buy from them; don’t sell to them. Don’t offer them any services; let’s boycott them,” Mwanje said.

Bahati also weighed in: “Even if your neighbours are South Sudanese, isolate them by not cooperating with them. This is the best way that their government will listen to us,” he said.

He added: “If this is the way they are rewarding Ugandans for supporting and standing by them during the time of need, then there is no reason as to why Ugandans should continue such a relationship with South Sudan.”

On its part, the government of South Sudan says it has verified some claims, and those whose documents are in order can go to the capital Juba and pick their money. Some traders are worried about their safety if they make the journey to Juba.

Despite going through the verification process, Charles Tumuhimbise (53) is still reluctant to travel to Juba to present his claim of $173,000 (Shs 432.5m) in compensation for his truck and foodstuffs that were stolen by Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on January 2, 2007.

On the fateful day, Tumuhimbise played the good Samaritan role and agreed to offer a lift to an SPLA soldier from the Kiti II bridge where he had stopped for the SPLA routine checks. Miles ahead, the soldier turned against them a few kilometres from the UPDF base at Aruu, inside South Sudan.

The said soldier was joined by others who emerged from the bush and opened fire at them. He was shot in the legs several times as the SPLA soldiers robbed him of all his merchandise. He now moves with the aid of crutches.

His verification process was completed in April 2010 and was asked to travel to Juba with his verification documents for his compensation but is still cautious about making the journey.

“So many others that went to get pick their claims were brutalized, I fear that what befell my colleagues is likely to happen to me,”

Tumuhimbise told The Observer. His efforts to push for his payments through Interpol, or ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade are yet to yield any fruit.

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