’Ugandans in South Sudan Are No Angels’ [interview]

Ugandan traders in South Sudan continue to face it rough. But what really is the problem?

Byron Kinene, the chairperson of the Regional Lorry Drivers and Transporters Association, told Justus Lyatuu why Ugandans’ behaviour has made the situation worse.

How long has the association been in the transport business to South Sudan?

Those who started this association were long in South Sudan even before its independence. But the association was formed in 1996. During those days, Arabs used to control the country [that is now South Sudan]. So, there was a need for an association that would fight for fair trade in the region.

How is the situation in South Sudan?

For drivers, business is as usual. Bor is what we miss. Uganda had big trade ties with the town. An area like Malakal, there is still war but that should not worry us since the trade in the area was very small.

Shops, banks and markets were destroyed in Bor and we know the war is still on and as you know the government cannot concentrate in rebuilding the towns now.

As transporters, we have been lucky. Soldiers controlling the borders and check-points stopped mistreating us and we can now comfortably negotiate for the road toll. The [South Sudan] soldiers believe that the Ugandan government saved them during the war and I think there is some respect of our traders now.

Ugandan traders’ claim they are mistreated, with their merchandise stolen while some traders are killed. How true are these accusations?

Yes, it’s true. But it is always a two-way situation there are things we do as traders working in South Sudan that make them mistreat us. Some of us deal with the same soldiers to mistreat and con our fellow traders so as to get a quick buck.

What is the origin of this bad relationship between South Sudanese and Ugandan traders?

Sudanese people are different. Even as a community, they don’t like each other. Although, the truth is that many Ugandans doing business in South Sudan are also dishonest. South Sudanese had never seen a fake dollar or pound but Ugandans took them [fake dollars and pounds there].

The South Sudanese had not seen substandard goods, where somebody buys 100kg of sugar from Kampala, seals it, but when it reaches Juba it is 80kg.

What do you think should be done to restore the lost friendly trading environment?

To try to improve on the trade, the South Sudanese government is coming up with friendly laws to see that both countries benefit from the relationship. Although the laws are changing, the behaviour of many Ugandans is not changing.

For example, when Ugandans were allowed to ride boda boda in South Sudan, they started stealing women’s handbags, and that forced the government there to chase them away.

Are traders from countries say Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda also mistreated?

Yes, they mistreat them be it Kenyans, Tanzanians, Rwandese. This is because the people in South Sudan even mistreat each other. The difference is that Ugandans were branded cheats so their case is worse.

Is history a factor in this unending hostility?

Yes, it is said that when you cross Karuma, people start changing…People who have been fighting all their lives take time to be civilised.

As a drivers’ association, how do you help traders when they are in trouble with the people and government of South Sudan?

We work with the inspectors general of police (IGPs), the chamber of commerce and the ministry of Trade from both countries to get a fair trade bargain. We have also been to several high-level EAC meetings where we complain about the situation in South Sudan. Do you think governments are doing enough to solve grievances?

The governments have not done enough. They have not felt the pain of the traders and the strike is not seen as a threat. Both governments are not serious. For example, there is more energy put in the ongoing war than trade issues.

Source : The Observer

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