Businesses in the Northern Corridor are bracing themselves for a ‘tough’ week of voting fever

Businesses in the Northern Corridor are bracing themselves for a ‘tough’ week of voting fever

By PRIEST ESIARA

Ugandan authorities have urged businesses to prepare for a “tough week” as Kenya, its main import route, holds elections.

While there is no credible evidence of any security threats that could disrupt operations on the North Corridor, traders are advised to take precautionary measures by either delaying their imports or choosing the alternative Central Corridor.

Uganda also advised its citizens living and working in Kenya to be cautious after the US issued a travel warning for those traveling to the lakeside town of Kisumu.

Read: Kenya’s changing of the guard: why neighbors are watching every step

This comes despite President Uhuru Kenyatta and his officials pledged peaceful elections to the region. Even the frontrunners for the presidency, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, have promised peace — and surrender if elections are free and fair.

Addressing the 22nd Ordinary Summit of East African Community Heads of State in Arusha last month, President Kenyatta said nothing would go wrong.

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Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i also said the security machinery had been mobilized to secure the elections and the country.

Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem said he hopes the elections end peacefully but Uganda is preparing for any eventuality, a Plan B that includes stockpiling and the diversion of supplies through Tanzania.

Uganda’s petroleum products are transported through the Northern Corridor from the Port of Mombasa.

Read: East African companies are closely monitoring the polls in Kenya

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the country uses five million liters a day. Kampala’s proposal to reroute cargo to Dar es Salaam has therefore fueled fears of supply shortages. The Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita) says it expects at least 4,000 transit cargo containers through Mombasa during election week, meaning their safe passage depends on how the election is conducted and how people react to the results.

“The diversion of cargo to other ports can only be done at the port of origin. We had already instructed shipping companies to deliver cargo in Mombasa,” said Mr. Jemba Kanakulya Mulondo, Kacita Board Member in charge of Safety and Environment. “That’s why we ask for security. Kenya should provide armed escorts for goods destined for Uganda during election week.”

Post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-08 disrupted the operation of the Northern Corridor, resulting in huge losses for Rwandan and Ugandan companies still seeking redress.

Read: Northern Corridor says it will “monitor elections in Kenya”

Biggest User

“Although the courts ordered Kenya to pay us $47 million in damages, we were never paid. That is why we are asking for assurances,” Mr Mulondo said.

Read: Traders are threatening to boycott the Kenyan port if they are not compensated

The Ugandan traders are also calling on the Kenya Tax Agency and the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to waive duties and fees as they expect a slump in port activity.

Data from KPA shows that Uganda is the largest user of the Port of Mombasa, accounting for 85 percent of its transit cargo. “KPA charges handling fees of $700 per 40ft container and $600 for 20ft transit freight after nine days. That shouldn’t be the case,” he added.

John Bosco Kalisa, CEO of the East African Business Council, said: “The business community expects Kenya to have a smooth transition and avoid a repeat of what happened in 2007.”

“There is no need to worry about the elections in Kenya. The country is resilient and hungry for trade with its neighbors and as such we expect a smooth transition,” said Jas Bedi, Chair of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

Kenya and Tanzania are two EAC partner countries that have held elections every five years, offering an important lesson in democracy in the region.

KPA acting chief executive John Mwangemi has assured the business community that they have taken steps to ensure business continuity during and after the election.

“We have been working with our customers in the transit countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, assuring them of our readiness to provide uninterrupted services,” said Mr. Mwangemi.

“With more than 30 ships scheduled to dock in Mombasa port before August 13th, this shows the confidence they have in our safety and we have ensured that all our staff are available 24 hours a day.”

Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo and Luke Anami

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