By Umaru Kashaka
Trade between Uganda and South Sudan has grown from $5m (about sh12b) in 2002 to $392m (about sh980b) in 2011.
There was also an attempt by the Ugandan Government to construct a market in Juba to take part in the trade, but it encountered legal and financial problems, which eventually saw the land that had been allocated to Uganda re-allocated to another developer by the Equatorial state.
It is against this background that legislators on the foreign affairs committee have asked the Government to engage South Sudan in the fight against harassment and indiscriminate assault of Ugandan traders by South Sudanese.
The committee, which held a meeting on Tuesday to consider its draft report on the recent working visits to Uganda’s missions abroad, noted that although the two countries enjoy strong bilateral and diplomatic relations, Ugandans in South Sudan continue to face hostile reception, harassment, violence and death.
“Although we partly attribute this to the weak government institutions in South Sudan since the country is emerging from a long period of war, we have appealed to our foreign ministry to engage its counterpart so that it can prevail over this violence and harassment of our people,” the committee chairperson and Vurra county MP, Sam Okuonzi, told New Vision.
The committee further learnt from the foreign affairs ministry that there is a commission engaging in discussions with the local authorities in Moyo district on suggestions of re-demarcating the border.
“The South Sudanese are accused of occupying the equivalent of one sub-county deep inside Uganda, and the local authorities are hostile to any suggestion of re-demarcating the border,” he said.
Okuonzi said the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga would also be meeting the South Sudan’s Ambassador to Uganda Samuel Luate over the matter so as to forge the way forward.
“The Speaker said she will soon hold discussions with the ambassador over the matter. We want this issue to be handled urgently because our people are suffering,” he said. Legislators also said despite the many Ugandan traders in South Sudan, there are also many Ugandan idlers in the country and some of whom could be criminals.
Meanwhile, a group of Ugandan traders have dragged five members of the East African Community to a regional court, seeking to block South Sudan’s entry into the bloc.
The traders through, Uganda Traders Association of South Sudan, argued in a suit filed in October. He said that South Sudan’s national government, the state governments and several influential individuals in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) owe members of his association $14.8m, which they allegedly declined to pay.
“We need to be paid. We need justice. There are several traders who supplied goods in South Sudan but have not been paid. South Sudan should also improve on its human rights record,” he said.
“In some instances, we have clear cases with clear judgments by South Sudan courts ordering that we be paid, but these judgments have not been enforced by the South Sudan government. It is the reason we have gone to the East African Court of Justice,” he added.
South Sudan, which applied for entry into the EAC in 2011 immediately after acquiring independence, is yet to hear from the community about the matter.