Northern Corridor businesses are bracing for a ‘tough’ week of voting fever

By PRIEST ESIARA

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

While there is no credible evidence of a security threat that could disrupt Northern Corridor operations, traders are advised to take precautions by delaying their imports or opting for the alternative central corridor.

Uganda also advised its citizens living and working in Kenya to be cautious after the US issued travel advisories for those traveling to the coastal city of Kisumu.

Read: The changing of the guard in Kenya: Why neighbors are watching every step

This is despite President Uhuru Kenyatta and his officials assuring the region of peaceful elections. Even the top presidential contenders William Ruto and Raila Odinga have promised peace – and to admit defeat if the elections are free and fair.

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

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Home Affairs Minister Fred Matiang’i also said security mechanisms had been mobilized to secure the elections and the country.

Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oriem said he hoped the election would end peacefully, but Uganda was preparing for any possible Plan Bs, including stockpiling supplies and rerouting shipments through Tanzania.

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

Read: East African businesses are closely following the Kenyan elections

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

“Transshipment of cargo to other ports can only be done at the port of origin. We had already instructed shipping lines to deliver cargo to Mombasa,” said Mr Jemba Kanakulya Mulondo, Kacita board member in charge of security and environment. “That is why we are asking for security. Kenya is to provide an armed escort for goods destined for Uganda during voting week.

Post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008 disrupted operations along the Northern Corridor, resulting in huge losses for Rwandan and Ugandan businesses that are still pursuing compensation.

Read: Northern Corridor countries ‘observe Kenyan elections’

The biggest user

“Although the courts ordered Kenya to pay us $47 million in compensation, we have never received payment. This is why we want assurances,” said Mr Mulondo.

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

Ugandan traders are also asking the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to waive tariffs and charges as they expect port activity to drop.

KPA figures show that Uganda is the largest user of the Mombasa port, accounting for 85 percent of its transit cargo. “KPA collects handling fees of $700 for a 40-foot container and $600 for a 20-foot transit load after nine days. This should be reversed,” he added.

John Bosco Kalisa, executive director 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 we therefore expect a smooth transition,” said Jas Bedi, chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

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

KPA Acting Executive Director John Mwangemi assured the business community that they have put measures in place to ensure business continuity during and after the elections.

“We have contacted our customers in transit countries Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and assured them of our readiness to offer uninterrupted services,” Mr Mwangemi said.

“With more than 30 ships scheduled to dock at Mombasa port before August 13, it shows the confidence they have in our security and we have arranged to provide 24-hour services to all our staff.”

Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo and Luke Anami

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