How Ugandans are making millions from helpless Kenyans at the border

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Border points between countries have always been of benefit almost in equal measure to business operators and residents of either side of the border. However, the situation at the Suam Border point in Trans Nzoia County between Kenya and Uganda is totally different.

As much as the two governments of Kenya and Uganda are quickly constructing One Stop Border points on either side of the border, the benefits and fruits of the border point are still skewed to one side.

Business operators, civil servants, residents and even travelers on the Kenyan side have nowhere to buy goods and services for their daily operations and needs.

The Kenyan side of the border has no single shop, no kiosk, no market, no bus stage, no hospital and no guest houses for visitors and even government workers to eat, shop, drink and even sleep while there.

Apart from the ongoing construction work of the offices and other facilities of the upcoming One stop Border Point and the old Immigration and customs offices, the picture on the Kenyan side of the Suam border is gloomy.

Just a few vendors of food cooking under a tree on the roadside to sell to the Matatu, and boda boda operators who have a sad story to tell about what they go through every day despite the fact that they appreciate the development that is expected to come with the One stop Border Point and even the tarmac road from Kitale-Endebess-Suam.

“We really suffer here as we do our small businesses of cooking food under the trees especially when it rains we can’t get any customers because they all cross over to eat and drink in Uganda,” said Monicah Chemtai a food vendor.

Chemtai and fellow food vendors claim that majority of Kenyans at the Border opt to walk across and spent their money there on virtually every need ranging from breakfast, lunch, supper and even clubbing because the Kenyan side that borders Suam forest has no land set aside for a market center that can provide facilities and other amenities to be utilized by Kenyans.

“As you can see, we don’t have any hotel here, no shop or wholesale or even a bar for our people on this side to buy goods and services hence most of our income is channeled spent in Uganda making them richer as compared to us here,” Chemtai added.

Matatu operators and boda boda riders who spoke to us had similar complaints saying that the authorities have never created space for a bus stage where travelers can board matatus or pick boda bodas to their destinations.

“Here as you can see, we have nothing to use on our own hence we are forced to go to Uganda for everything including toilets because there is none on our side,” said Augustine Moiben, a Matatu operator.

On his part, Elijah Kamau an executive member of the Suam business community appreciated the construction of the One Stop border point at Suam by the two governments of Kenya and Uganda but urged president William Ruto to intervene so that Kenya Forest Service can fast-track the process to hive a section of its land to put up a market that has all the amenities that people on the Kenyan side need to do business and other activities.

Ugandans Farm and Graze in Kenyan Forest

Apart from Kenyans spending all their money and time in Ugandan shops, bars, hotels and other basic amenities, Ugandans further benefit from Kenyan forest by farming there and grazing their animals everyday and while there you can see women, men and children walking back to Uganda with farm produce and even livestock coming from the forest in the evenings.

According to Charles Mukabi, a border senior security officer on the Ugandan side, Ugandans benefit more from the Kenyan side as compared to their Kenyan counterparts as far as business and other benefits are concerned.

“When you sit here and watch you will see many Ugandans coming from the Kenyan side with farm produce and even animals coming from grazing in the forest and we are very happy with the co-existence and integration that our people on both sides have embraced and living in peace and harmony,” said Charles Mukabi as he spoke to us in his office.

Mukabi further notes that the completion of the One stop Border point and the tarmac road from Kitale – Endebes- Suam through to Kapchorwa in Uganda will open up that region economically and business-wise.

He said that when complete the road will be a short-cut for long distance drivers especially truck drivers coming from Kenya to Uganda through to Rwanda and DRC as compared to using the Lwakhakha, Malaba or Busia border points.

Similar sentiments were shared by the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Trans Nzoia Martin Waliaula who said that there is already a proposal to make Suam border point a dry port so that goods from Mombasa are stored there before proceeding to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and DRC among others.

Trans Nozia County and Kenya Forest to create land For Suam market

When reached for comment Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya confirmed that his administration is fully aware of the situation at the border and was busy working closely with the Kenya Forest service to fast track the process of getting land from the forest to be set aside for the Suam Market.

He added that his administration has plans to embark on construction of the market immediately the transfer process of the land is completed and was optimistic that once complete, the Kenyan business operators will reap more than what the Ugandans are now reaping from Kenyans.

“We are in talks with officers of Kenya Forest Service through the assistance of the national government to have a section of forest land set aside so that when the One Stop Border point offices are complete, our people should have somewhere to do business and am sure they will do better than the Ugandans,” said Governor Natembeya.