Sunday, January 13, 2008

Uganda bears the brunt of Kenyan crisis

Uganda is losing over a million dollars a day in revenues and exports as a result of the post-election violence in Kenya. The Uganda government and its farmers and traders are suffering as the landlocked country is unable to get its products out. Uganda is heavily reliant on the Kenyan port of Mombasa for the import of fuel and heavy goods, such as machinery, cars and generators, and also for the export of coffee, tea and tobacco.

In the fortnight since the violence began Ugandan government revenues have dropped by 78 per cent in the three border points with Kenya. Exporters too are feeling the pinch. "We have not been able to deliver our goods to the port since December 27 because of the violence", says David Barry of Kyagulanyi Coffee. "It is definitely a big loss for us, also in terms of fines and penalties for late delivery." Ugandan hopes of an early end to the Kenyan impasse following the collapse of efforts by Ghanaian president and AU mediator John Kufuor to secure a deal between President Mwai Kibaki and his opposition rival Raila Odinga.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni may now be regretting his early endorsement of a Kibaki victory. There have been allegations that the Ugandan government may have had a hand in securing the contested win. One week after the election on 2 January Museveni, in his capacity as current chairman of the East African Community, offered congratulations to Kibaki on his re-election. Other than Uganda, only Somalia, Kuwait and Swaziland have so far recognised the election result. Museveni was criticised internally for this move on the basis that his message could provoke attacks on Ugandans and Ugandan interests in Kenya. Others say he was “forced” to recognise the result to facilitate the movement of Ugandan goods in and out of the country.

If that was Museveni's plan, it has not proved successful. The only traffic coming into Uganda at the moment is a human one. According to the UN over 6,000 Kenyans have fled to eastern Uganda to flee the violence. They are finding shelter in school buildings, hospitals and in open places and UN agencies, government and the Uganda Red Cross are providing them food and other relief items. Over 500 have been registered at Bukwo and Kapchorwa districts. The Ugandan Red Cross has assessed another 3,500 refugees camped at the border towns of at Malaba, Busia and Lwakahkah. Red Cross official Alice Uwase Anukur said sanitation was the major challenge at the camps. "The only pit latrine at St. Jude Malaba Primary School is filled up," she said. She also said there was an urgent need for sanitary towels.

The general population is also suffering. Uganda continues to face shortages, and fuel prices have more than doubled since last week. In the longer term Uganda is hoping to reduce its dependency on road and rail for importing fuel products from Kenya by building an oil pipeline. The project will initially involve a $110 million 340-kilometer pipeline from Eldoret in western Kenya to the Uganda capital Kampala. The pipeline would subsequently be extended to Kigali and Bujumbura, the capitals of Rwanda and Burundi, respectively. Fuel supplies to all three countries have been erratic since the violence started.

But matters are unlikely to improve in the short term with Kenyan opposition forces planning further rounds of protest next week. The impact on the surrounding region is potentially devastating with the agricultural economies of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi all “throttled” by the violence. A quarter of the gross domestic product of Uganda and Rwanda and a third of Burundi's pass through Kenya. None of them have found a suitable alternative to the bottleneck port of Mombasa. According to Robert Shaw, a businessman and economic analyst, "If Kenya has got a cold, these countries get pneumonia.”

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