KAMPALA – After close to three years of Rwanda-Uganda Gatuna-Katuna border closure, the government of Rwanda through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation announced the re-opening with effect from January 31, 2022.
However, unlike in the past, cross-border small-scale businesses are yet to be accepted to operate. At the moment, only truck cargos are allowed free movement.
According to the Minister of State for Industry, David Bahati, the Rwanda side is only open for cargo as they are still observing Covid-19 preventative measures.
Speaking to the press on Wednesday morning, Civil Society Organisations including Eastern Africa Sub Regional Initiative for the Advancement of Women – EASSI, Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights – CEFROHT and Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda together with Katuna Women Cross Border Cooperative Limited protested act of keeping local people tied down on the expense of their leaders.
Ms. Sheila Kawamara-Mishambi, the Executive Director, EASSI said that Rwanda’s move to close the borders of Gatuna – Katuna, Cyanika, Mirima Hills and Kagitumba was contrary to the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community (as amended) and the Common Market Protocol.
She said in such moments, there are critical issues which need to be urgently addressed by the East African Community.
“We have sadly noted the deafening silence of the Community during the three years of tension between the two countries. This is a clear indication of a silent death of the institutions of the East African Community, that is the Summit, Council of Ministers the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) and the East African Legislative Assembly, which have all not been effectively used utilized in resolving the crisis. Rather than the East African Community being at the forefront, we have seen individual Heads of State of Congo and Angola playing a pivotal role in engaging Uganda and Rwanda to reach an amicable solution,” she said.
The CSOs say that the realisation of an inclusive, transformative regional integration agenda largely depends on the strength of these institutions to deliver on their mandate of addressing the political, social and trade-related tensions and Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBS) among the Partner States in pursuit of the development of the region and attainment of decent standards of living for their citizens.
“The major thrust of the East African Community is a people-centered, market-driven and private sector-led integration process. Unfortunately, the three-year border closure does not resonate with these aspirations and the onus is on all the East African Community Partner States to be true to the spirit and objectives of the Community.”
These called for the review of the East African Community Treaty in order to put in place a dedicated and robust body for settlement of political and trade and investment-related disputes among the Partner States in order to effectively eliminate the Non-Tariff Barriers that are impeding intra-regional trade.
“The East African Court of Justice should be empowered to mediate between the Partner States and discourage such trade blockages.”
According to them, the three-year border closure has had far-reaching economic challenges on cross-border traders.
Ms. Miria Tugume, the Chairperson Katuna Women Cross Border Cooperative Limited said that them and the locals have suffered immensely since they are dependent on the border businesses for their livelihoods.
“Our people got a lot of losses. We usually got beans from Rwanda, so we had given some money to the Rwandan people and when the border was closed, we never got back our money. People are down there suffering without anything to do.”
Over the last three years, literally, all the Micro, Small and Medium Scale businesses between Rwanda and Uganda have been closed down and the border towns reduced to be ghosts of themselves. While the low-income traders were advised in 2019 by the Ugandan Ministry of Trade to relocate their businesses to other borders, this was impossible given their immobility due to having location-specific business operations.
In pursuit of attaining justice for the affected traders, EASSI, SEATINI Uganda, and CEFROHT filed a Public Interest Case, Reference No. 13 of 2019, against the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) over the continued arbitrary border closure.
The case which is yet to be fixed by the East African Court of Justice has, among other things, called for the need to make an economic and social audit to ascertain the extent of damage to the traders and Micro Small and Medium Scale businesses and compensate them accordingly.
“It is our hope that as trade normalizes, negotiations on a full border opening will be undertaken to address the existing challenges. The East African Court of Justice should prevail over the two governments and cause the recommended audit of losses to the business community and adequate compensation to enable the traders at the affected borders to revive their lost businesses. The East African Court of Justice should also issue a permanent injunction against the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, to never close border posts between themselves and ensure the free movement of persons and trade facilitation,” asked the CSOs.