Ugandan authorities have asked businesses to prepare for a “tough week” as Kenya, its main import route, holds elections.
While there is no credible evidence of security threats that could disrupt operations in the Northern Corridor, traders are advised to take precautions, either by delaying their imports or by choosing the alternative central corridor.
Uganda also advised its citizens living and working in Kenya to pay attention, after the United States issued a travel warning for those traveling to the lakeside city of Kisumu.
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This is happening even though President Uhuru Kenyatta and his officials have secured peaceful elections for the region. Leading presidential contenders William Ruto and Raila Odinga have also promised peace – and to admit defeat if the polls are free and fair.
In a speech at the 22nd Ordinary Summit of East African Community Heads of State in Arusha last month, President Kenyatta said nothing would go wrong.
Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i also said the security mechanism was mobilized to protect the elections and the country.
Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem said he hopes the elections will end peacefully, but Uganda was preparing for any eventuality a Plan B plans to stock up on supplies and redirect shipments through Tanzania.
Uganda’s petroleum products are transported through the northern corridor from the port of Mombasa.
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According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the country consumes five million liters per day. Kampala’s proposal to divert goods to Dar es Salaam has therefore raised fears of supply shortages. Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita) says they expect at least 4,000 containers to transit during election week through Mombasa, meaning their safe passage depends on how the elections are held and how people react to the results.
“The transfer of goods to other ports can only be done in the port of origin. We had already instructed the shipping companies to deliver goods to Mombasa, “said Jemba Kanakulya Mulondo, Kacita council member responsible for safety and the environment.” This is why we demand security. Kenya should provide armed escorts for goods destined for the ‘Uganda during voting week “.
The 2007/8 post-election violence in Kenya disrupted Northern Corridor operations causing huge losses for Rwandan and Ugandan businesses, which are still seeking compensation.
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“Although the courts ordered Kenya to pay us $ 47 million in compensation, we have never been paid. This is why we are asking for insurance, ”Mulondo said.
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Ugandan traders are also asking the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to waive tariffs and charges as they expect a decline in port activity.
Data from the KPA shows that Uganda is the largest user of the port of Mombasa, accounting for 85% of its cargo in transit. “KPA charges $ 700 handling fees for 40ft containers and $ 600 for 20ft transit freight after nine days. This should be lifted, “she added.
John Bosco Kalisa, CEO of the East African Business Council, said: “The business community expects Kenya to have a smooth transition and avoid a repeat of what happened in 2007”.
“There is no need to worry about the elections in Kenya. The country is resilient and hungry for trade with its neighbors and therefore we expect a smooth transition, “said Jas Bedi, president of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.
Kenya and Tanzania are two EAC partner states that have held elections every five years offering an important lesson on democracy in the region.
KPA CEO John Mwangemi assured the business community that he has put measures in place to ensure business continuity during and after the elections.
“We have engaged with our customers in the transit countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and have reassured them that we are prepared to offer uninterrupted services,” said Mwangemi.
“With more than 30 ships scheduled to dock in the port of Mombasa before August 13, this demonstrates the confidence they have in our safety and we have arranged to provide all our staff with 24-hour service.”
Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo and Luke Anami