Taxis plying Uganda-Rwanda border dry up


Walking alone and looking down, Mubangizi is feasibly perturbed. He is probably wondering what could have happened to the two sister countries of recent, that he could not even pick a taxi, special hire or a boda boda cyclist to carry him across.

Clad in a hooded jumper, carrying a backpack and paper bag, John Bosco Mubangizi walks slowly past the newly constructed bridge on River Kagera, which connects Uganda to Rwanda at the Mirama Hills/Kagitumba border posts in South Western Uganda.

Walking alone and looking down, Mubangizi is feasibly perturbed. He is probably wondering what could have happened to the two sister countries of recent, that he could not even pick a taxi, special hire or a boda boda cyclist to carry him across.

He works in Ruyonza, a district of Rwanda but his home is in Ruhaama, Ntungamo district in Uganda. He has been working in Rwanda for some time but when he decided to return home on Friday (March 16,2019) for a brief break off, he was taken aback by what he saw.

Taxis plying Uganda-Rwanda border dry upThe exit road from Rwanda that joins with Kagitumba border post remained empty for most of the day on Friday

“There is a roadblock inside Rwanda, manned by immigration officials, police and the army. They ask too many questions and they check you thoroughly that you are tempted to suspect many things,” a soft spoken Mubangizi recollected, a few moments after setting foot in Uganda.

He said a few months before when he used the same route, there were many taxis, boda bodas (commercial motorcyclists) and buses, so he did not need to walk. Nobody was also checking and asking too many questions.  

On his way back, he used the highway exit route, commonly used by vehicles exiting Rwanda. But still he was surprised that the road was almost empty from the time he was finally allowed to go and when he crossed over to Uganda.

Taxis plying Uganda-Rwanda border dry upNalongo Annet Twinomugisha returns from the Rwanda border after failing to sell her bananas

He walked past the Uganda customs checkpoint, continued up to Sofia Trading Center, a small town near the border, named after a former famous bar woman, located below the tallest Mirama hill.

“I’m so surprised that I could not see a single taxi crossing to Uganda. But I saw many of them parked inside the taxi park and along the streets inside Kagitumba, just there. This is serious,” he said.

Several people who have crossed from either Rwanda or Uganda have faced similar situations.

On Friday, the Mirama Hills border post was almost empty most of the time, with a few trucks that come and go. This was unlike before when the place was heavily jammed with cargo trucks waiting to be cleared.

Taxis plying Uganda-Rwanda border dry upThe usually busy parking lot of Mirama Hills at the Uganda border with Rwanda now empty

A few people who cross over from Uganda have to walk past the bridge to Kagitumba, where they look for other means to continue their journeys. Majority travel to attend burials, functions or visit relatives across, but Rwandans have been barred from visiting Uganda.

At the empty Mirama Hills parking lot, a middle age single mother is pushing an old bicycle, carrying a basket of yellow bananas (bogoya). Her pace is extraordinarily slow, looking ahead in an empty highway leading to the border post. It is past 3:00pm and she is on her way back from the Kagitumba border.

Nalongo Annet Twinomugisha is a regular vendor in this area, making a livelihood from selling yellow bananas. On a busy day, she said, she loads her bicycle and pushes it past both border posts into Rwanda, first serving the security officials and enters the town.

“I have been selling a loaded bicycle in one hour. Many Rwandans like my bananas but today I was not allowed,” she said.

The bananas appear too ripe and starting to waste away. She said on Friday, she was intercepted by security men at a roadblock at Kagitumba, some of who she said were her regular customers.

“They told me if I want to sell bananas in Rwanda, I should first give them a sample for them to take to Kigali for testing (probably in a laboratory) before they allow me to sell here. I accepted and asked them to pick the samples but they declined,” she said.

Twinomugisha, said the security men explained to her that allowing her to continue would mean sacrificing their jobs and life. “One I know very well told me if he allows me it means he is sacrificing his head,” she said.

She said, however, there was a huge food shortage on the Rwanda side.

“I always sell to security personnel, truck drivers and ordinary people,” she said.

Twinomugisha asked the Parliament of Uganda to intervene in the prevailing saga for the sake of the ordinary people. “I have made several attempts and I decided to come back. Some of my bananas are getting bad. I have a family and I pay fees for my children, what I am going to do if this situation continues,” she wondered.

Happy Wensi, walking away in haste, said for two weeks he had been stranded at the border and was tired. He parked his cargo truck, for what he described as ‘abandoning’ at Kagitumba in Rwanda and decided to go back to Kampala for a weekend.

Taxis plying Uganda-Rwanda border dry upA mobile money dealer sleeps on his desk after waiting for customers in vain

He is transporting empty plastic bottles from Kampala to Kigali but for four days, he was stranded at Kagitumba border having spent several days on the Ugandan side.

He said he was diverted from Katuna and asked to use Mirama Hills but he has been waiting for days to be cleared, in vain.

“I have been explaining to my bosses in Kampala that Ugandan vehicles carrying Ugandan-made goods are not permitted, but they keep on pushing me that other vehicles are passing,” a visibly frustrated Wensi said.

He explained that what many people did not realize, is that a few Ugandan vehicles cleared were those in transit and mainly carrying goods from Mombasa in Kenya either going to Burundi or  DR Congo.

“I have asked the clearing agent to keep trying, I cannot spend the entire weekend here, and moreover I do not have any more pocket money. If possible I would prefer to offload the goods and drive back,” he stated.

The border post looked empty for most of the day. Mobile Money workers were seen sleeping at their tables, common money changers seated, idle, by the verandahs while others, mainly those who came from Katuna decided to hire rooms at Sofia and spend the day conversing.

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