AMUDAT/BUKWO – Although the Government has made it hard for people to smuggle goods across the borders, the vice has now shifted to Suam and Amudat where the Uganda Revenue Authority hardly operates because of the bad terrain.
If you visited the Kenya side of the border in Amudat, you will notice booming petty trade, which fuels the smuggling of goods from one country to the other without anybody suspecting.
At these borders, Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education children take days off school to participate in the petty trade and smuggling through R. Suam because the officials are hesitant to apprehend them, lest the public interprets it as harassment that separates.
Commonly traded goods include polythene bags, cement, paraffin, Petrol, SuperMatch cigarettes, wheat flour, Soda, parked juices, cooking oil, radio batteries and salt that allegedly are bought cheaply and sold in Uganda expensively.
Mr Johnson Chekwech says although the disabled persons use the wheelchairs to smuggle and earn about Shs 10,000 a day from the trade, the disabled persons are not as lucky as the bodaboda cyclists, who are able to cross the border several times and carry goods in huge amounts.
“A trader fetches a profit of sh 700 on a kilogram of sugar, dry batteries may fetch them a profit of Shs800, while a bar of soap may fetch them sh 600,” said Mr Chekwech.
The former RDC Bukwo Mr John Watenyeri said in the disguise of carrying out petty business, traders smuggle large amounts of goods across the border, making the country lose billions of shillings in tax revenue that would have helped develop the country.
Mr Watenyeri says there are people who disguise themselves as going to visit relatives in Kenya every day and carry goods across the borders disguised as gifts from the relatives they have visited.
“Whenever we visit, go attend burials and attend function with relatives in Kenya, they offer me sugar, soap and paraffin to carry back, how do you expect us to pay revenue for such items at the border?,” said Mr Chekwech.
And in Amudat the LCV chairman and former MP Mr Pokot County Mr Simon Kiyonga has most of his relatives in Kenya amongst the Pokot and that whenever he goes there he is given gifts to carry..
“Ours is called Pokot nation stretching from as far as Laikipia district near Mt. Kenya to Amudat in Uganda, we use the same currency, we have the same cultures/traditions, same language and way of living. There is no boundary here so we move freely, buy anything across and then come back,” says elder Mr. Atanasiya Cheptlak.
Ms Chepleke Yaramwai and Mrs Cheprai Ngolenyang of Akorkeya village, Abiliyebi parish in Loro sub-county in Amudat about 72km from Nakapiripirit district headquaters say it is seasons that define their stay.
“Once the Kenya side is too hot for us to settle there, we freely cross to Uganda and comfortably stay because it is another home for us and we must cross with our food, property and animals,” says Yaramwai.
“For me Uganda is home and Kenya is home, this other thing called a boundary is imaginary and a colonial calculation to divide us along tribal lines for easy exploitation,” says Ms Anna Domokwang.
Mr Joseph Arupe Tomtomu, a councilor at North Pokot says children from Amudat cross to Kenya for studies just like children from Kenya cross to Uganda for studies and when they come back carrying some little things, it is not good to tax them.
“We are happy that this district [Amudat] came and this has become the fifth district we have got after Pokot North, Pokot West, Pokot Central, Pokot South and East Pokot but we are also expecting Kacheliba. And this will give us a region from Laikipia to Amudat where we shall cross borders without any hindrances,” says Tomtomu.
Ms Anna Maria Domokwang revealed that they do not have a permanent home in Kenya and Uganda but that they keep shifting from one home to another depending on the prevailing circumstances.
Ms Dokwang says in Amudat, “We have people who sleep in Kenya, drink in Uganda, do farming in Kenya but transact business in Uganda. Others have one wife in Uganda and the other in Kenya and this is why when heard of the East African Community we were happy because for us we had already moved ahead to do trade with our brothers in Kenya,”
Mr Swalik Masokoyi the Chief Administrative Officer for Amudat confirmed there is a lot of illicit business and smuggling across the borders which is difficult to stop.
“And those who are doing cross-border smuggling do it for reasons ranging from cultural background to economic gains. And the distance to Uganda to access goods, most people here find Kenya nearer than Uganda,” said Mr Masokoyi.
He revealed that the government of Uganda is working on the road and that very soon smuggling will end to boost Uganda’s economy.
Records at the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) eastern region reveal that URA recovers about Shs 700 million every month from smuggled goods and the records indicate further that government loses about sh2.5b in cross-border smuggling and illicit trade.
The records indicate that although they have border posts at Suam and Amudat, there some clearing agents who have infiltrated the URA systems to help smugglers walk squat free.
“The clearing agents connive with some customs officials to make false documentation, mis-classification, wrong description and under-declaration of quantities and concealment,” reads a report dated June 2019 from URA Eastern region.
How goods are smuggled across the border
At Suam border post the goods are first hidden in River Suam and other streams near the borders and then transported at night when nobody is suspecting through Mt Elgon national park at the border.
“During day time the women disguise themselves in other chores like burning malt and selling ajo’no; local brew here but at night they go across the borders to smuggle goods,” said Mr Shaban Kachimette the former RDC Amudat.
“At times women put the merchandise in jerrycans, pass through rivers and cross the borders disguised as carrying water. And sometimes they put sugar in their guards and cross several times,” said Mr Kachimette.
And that during day time, Boda boda [Motorcycles are used and the disabled people are used to peddle across merchandise in small quantities while women hide the merchandise in their gormases claiming they had gone for a burial and were returning with sugar, paraffin from relatives.