Deputy President William Ruto has asked Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to release trucks belonging to Kenyan fish exporters.
The trucks were impounded three weeks ago together with fish valued at Sh50 million (Sh1.5 billion Uganda shillings) in Kasese district.
According to the traders, who transport fresh fish from Lake Turkana to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the consignment was confiscated by the Uganda Fisheries Protection Unit on October 3 at Mpondwe border.
Speaking from Busia, Ruto urged President Museveni to release the trucks unconditionally.
“About the fish impounded in Uganda, I want to tell Museveni to release the lorries in the spirit of the East African Community and allow our traders to take the fish to its destination before they get bad. That is not bhang or illicit alcohol but genuine products that Kenyan traders were transporting,” said Ruto.
He said fresh fish was highly perishable and if the standoff persists, the traders will incur huge losses.
“We cannot claim we are good neighbours when we (Kenya) play our role and allow Uganda traders to do business in the country freely but our traders are arrested and slapped with punitive fines and their products confiscated across the border,” said Ruto.
President Museveni and DP Ruto are friends. The Deputy President said it was wrong for the Ugandan authorities to continue holding onto the consignment and yet an agreement had been reached to have the trucks released after traders blocked Busia border point last week.
Angry traders blocked the Busia One stop border point in protest after the Uganda Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) declined to release the impounded trucks on grounds that the fish that was being transported to DRC had been stolen from Lake Kyoga.
Protesters had threatened to paralyse operation at the border point unless the trucks and consignment are released by Uganda authorities.
“The Uganda military is a thorn in our flesh. They arrest us frequently without any valid reasons and arraign us in their courts where we are slapped with punitive fines. On this one, we are not going to relent until we have our fish released unconditionally,” said Yusuf Sefu, chairman Kenya Fish Traders Association.
“We have closed this border to demand for the unconditional release of our trucks that were intercepted by the Ugandan military at the Mpondwe border post in Kasese,” explained Mr Sefu.
He said the impounded fish had met all requisite certification from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).
“The fish was from Lake Turkana and not Lake Kyoga as it is being alleged,” argued the official. Sefu wondered why Uganda authorities were laying claim on the fish yet they could easily establish the origin of the fish.
Calm was restored at the border point after Ugandan officials led by Busia Deputy Resident District Commissioner Mathew Tusubira met with their Kenyan counterparts led by Busia Kenya County Commissioner, John Korir recently.
It was resolved that representatives from the two groups would meet and secure the release of the trucks but that has not happened.
So far, affected traders have moved to court and sued the head of the Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU on Lake George and Edward Capt Musa Mugogo and Joyce Ikwaput Nyeko respectively,
They also sued the acting Director of Fisheries Resources Management – Uganda and the country’s Attorney General who they want charged with malicious damage of property and theft.