Uncertainty at Gatuna as businesses count losses, trucks find new routes
Rwandan security and immigration officials at Gatuna told The EastAfrican on Thursday that the closure of the one-stop border post was not a “big problem because it’s almost complete and will be ready for use before the end of April.”
Rwanda has accused Uganda of arresting, torturing and harassing Rwandans who live there, as well as hosting elements hostile to it, notably the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) led by former comrade in arms turned foe, Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa who is currently exiled in South Africa.
Rwanda-bound trucks drivers are reluctant to use Mirama Hills because of the 176km distance between the border and Kigali – which they have to cover at the strictly enforced 50kph speed limit – compared with 76km from Gatuna to Kigali.
“Mirama Hills has seen a surge in traffic, now averaging between 200 and 250 vehicles per day, up from a maximum of 40. Customs has also had to increase staff from five to seven to handle the increased traffic flow,” Mr Kakande said.
But there are other businesses that have suffered from the closure. With no Rwandans allowed to exit their border into Uganda, money changers at Mirama Hills border post had left their shops by 3pm after failing to register any transactions on March 6.
At Gatuna, money changers say they often lend millions of francs to Rwandans going to Kigali, who pay the money back when they return to the border. But since the partial closure, the borrowers have not returned to repay their loans. Moreover, few Ugandans returning home in half-empty buses are interested in changing their currency.
“Bunagana is a shorter route to Goma, although the road is very bad. But some drivers would rather pass through here than transit through Rwanda via Cyanika, which is longer and has speed restrictions,” one official said.
Speaking at the High Level Conference for Ministers in charge of Refugees from the Great Lakes Region on Thursday, President Yoweri Museveni avoided discussing the border closure, only saying that he had witnessed the first in-flow of Rwandan refugees into Uganda in 1959 and the early 1960s.