On the third day of October this year, a joint operation manned by officers from Uganda Police and the Fisheries Protection Unit impounded four (4) trucks at the Uganda-DR Congo border in Mpondwe en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo, reportedly from Kenya on suspicion that they were smuggling tonnes of immature fish.
Since then the truck drivers have eluded arrest and owners unidentified. Police reports indicate that the drivers are still on the run.
The four trucks were taken to the Directorate of Fisheries Resources in Entebbe, to execute a thorough inspection.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries – MAAIF, through the Fisheries Directorate sought a clearance from the Magistrates Court in Entebbe to permit inspection of the trucks.
However, numerous factions in Kenya were in contention of the inspection citing the fish had been given a green light by Uganda Revenue Authority – URA to transit through Uganda.
The Kenyan factions that claim ownership of the fish which is reportedly worth UGX 1 Billion and over, wrote to the URA on 11th October through their lawyers ADIL Advocates and Solicitors calling on the Authority to intervene in the “illegal breaking of URA seals.”
“We act for and on behalf of our clients Hassan W. Omari and Violet Odhiambo Ooko, consignees of the above-described consignments, …..You will note that URA inspected and cleared the goods in Busia on October 1, and the same were subsequently sealed and released for transit to Congo. However, to our surprise, the cargo was intercepted at Mpondwe border by the FPU commandant and wrongfully diverted back to the directorate of fisheries resources in Entebbe,” read part of the letter
However, the letter claims ownership of the fish consignments in trucks registration numbers UBA 893G, UAF 813L and UBH 606P, leaving the fourth truck UBE 894Z unclaimed.
After the inspection of the four trucks on Friday afternoon, Tom Bukenya, the commissioner fisheries control, regulation, and quality assurance said, the consignment consisted of immature Nile perch and tilapia from Uganda, and not from the lake Turkana as earlier claimed by the authorities in Kenya. “With our expertise, we can ably identify this undersized fish as coming from lake Kyoga and not Turkana,” noted Bukenya.
He further intimated that Uganda loses approximately sh3 trillion in illegal fishing every year. “We are going to seek for court redress on how to dispose off this immature fish, and then act accordingly,” added Bukenya. Each of the four trucks was estimated to be carrying not less than 50 tonnes of immature fish. The laws which regulate fishing in all East African countries, bars fishing of a Nile perch which is smaller than 20 inches and tilapia which is smaller than 7 inches.
Upheaval at Uganda-Kenya Busia border:
On Friday 8th October, protests sprung up in the border town of Busia staged by supposedly fish merchants, the protests paralyzed business for over six hours.
The merchants while carrying placards and blowing whistles were seen barring Ugandan motor vehicles from entering Kenya, as a way of sending a message to their Ugandan Counterparts per the URN.
According to these factions, Ugandan Authorities had abused cross-border policies citing that they had no right whatsoever to impound transit cargo that had been cleared by URA.
Kenyans Storm out of Meeting with Fisheries Minister:
A Kenyan delegation led by Ambassador Julius Kiema Kilonzo decided to prematurely bring a hiatus to their meeting with Ugandan authorities chaired by State Minister for Fisheries, Hellen Adoa on Tuesday 19th October.
The Kenyan delegation decided to storm out of the meeting after failing to land an agreement with their Ugandan counterparts.
Reports indicate that the Kenyan delegation was angered by the Fisheries Directorate’s persistent refusal to release the fish consignments after 3 weeks of negotiations.
According to Economists, the standoff between Uganda and Kenyan may add more damage to the already injured trade relations between the countries.
About 36 Kenyan fishermen were released by the Ugandan authorities after being detained at Lolwe island on allegations of trespassing when fishing on Lake Victoria this year.
Earlier this year in march, Kenya imposed a ban on all Ugandan maize citing that mycotoxin levels were above safety limits according to their Agriculture and Food Authority.