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Kenya closes porous border routes over smuggling

Mr Emmanuel Karani, 55, has two wives across the border in Kenya and another wife on the Ugandan side of the border; however, he is one of the many residents in Busia who have been affected after Kenya closed all porous routes.
The Kenya-Uganda border in Busia District, which includes 57 kilometers of porous borders and over 200 illegal routes stretching from Lake Victoria in Majanji to River Malaba in Buteba Sub County, was at the weekend closed by Nairobi.
Subsequently, the usually busy border outpost of Sofia and Marachi, which thrived on illicit trade across the two borders, remain deserted as Kenya maintained a huge security presence to curtail illegal border movement.
Mr Karani, who was found at one of his homes on the Ugandan side of the border, said he has greatly been affected by the development because he would easily move across and check on his two families.
“When I saw this (Sunday) morning Kenya deploying Police and the General Service Unit officers, which was followed by total stoppage of all movements through the porous routes, I realised I was in trouble,” Mr Karani said.
Mr Ruto Kipchumba, the Busia-Kenya County Commissioner, explained why they had deployed a multi-sectoral team of security personnel along all the porous border routes.
“The deployment is meant to curtail illicit activities of smuggling which were causing huge revenue losses to the Kenyan government and putting the lives of their nationals at risk due to consumption of substandard goods that were being smuggled into the country,” he said.
Mr Ruto said human trafficking, especially of aliens, through the porous borders, was putting the security of Kenyans on edge, directing that all people crossing the borders must pass through the one stop border point for purposes of promoting sanity at the border.
Mr Ruto said they had started with deployments in Sofia, Marachi and Buteba and would expand to other points as soon as the human resource is available.
But Mr Karani, who is a resident of Sofia, which is one of the Villages lying at the border, said the closure is a “tall order” to him and other residents who have families in both Kenya and Uganda.
He said: “Sometimes I leave my Ugandan home late in the night and use less than 10 minutes to reach my other home in Kenya. I am wondering how I will be walking for over three kilometers through immigration point to check on my wives and children who are across the two borders.”
According to Mr Karani, Kenyans and Ugandans living across the borders are so culturally connected because they have shared the same language for many years, while such porous borders were strategic to connect with relatives.
“When you want to visit a relative across the border, you just walk from anywhere to meet them,” Karani said.

Kenyans and Ugandans at the border share several resources, including water sources, grazing areas and farms.
“Can you imagine that all the Ugandans in Sofia (Village) fetch water in Kenya because the water sources on the Ugandan side are too far away?” he asked.
Mr Michael Kibwika, the Busia Resident District Commissioner (RDC), said Uganda had welcomed Nairobi’s move to have the porous borders closed, adding that Uganda, too, has been losing huge revenue to rampant smuggling, while human trafficking was “at its worst”.
Ms Aisha Nadunga, who operates a tomato stall at the Sofia border, said her business has badly been affected by the closure of the porous routes since most of her customers were Kenyans.
“Since yesterday (Friday) when Kenya announced the closure, I have not seen any customer come to buy my tomatoes, raising fear that all my merchandise will rot away yet I acquired a loan to start the small business,” she said.
Ms Farida Khainza, who sells bananas, is also worried of losing her stocks since all bunches have started ripening albeit with no single buyer in sight.
Mr Sadat Nerigimana, who operates a grocery store in Sofia Village, said since the deployment of security across the border, he has not been able to make any sales because the majority of his customers were Kenyan nationals.
Mr Gerald Ojambo, who operates a restaurant at the border that sells roasted goat meat, said each day, he slaughters eight goats that were all consumed, but he is now slaughtering only three goats.
He said he had employed 10 workers at his restaurant, but because of low business, he was considering laying off seven workers due to low business.
But as sections of residents are complaining, many people crossing to Kenya and Uganda are adopting quickly to the use of the main gazzetted entry point.
Ms Alysia Namuyonga, one of the women involved in the cross border trade, said she had been using porous routes, fearing that if she used the one stop border point, she would be arrested, which has not been the case.
Mr Hassan Mukose, a boda boda rider, said traders carrying small quantities of goods across the border are now moving freely through the gazzetted border point without their goods being impounded.
Because of free movement of goods, he added, more people are being encouraged to pass through the main border point other than through the porous borders that had several challenges.
Mr Sulaiman Benjura, a trader at the border, says because of the lone gate left for people moving to Kenya and Uganda, there was a lot of congestion, and called upon Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to open other gates in order to allow easy movement to both East African countries.

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