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Ugandan drivers protest as South Sudan holds onto impounded maize trucks

Elegu border post

Elegu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Ugandan truck drivers have staged a peaceful protest at the Elegu border point in Elegu Town Council in Amuru District demanding the release of their colleagues and trucks impounded by South Sudan authorities. This follows nearly two months of fruitless negotiation between the Ugandan and the South Sudan authorities over the release of 74 trucks impounded at Nimule Township.

The trucks loaded with wheat, maize grains, millet grains, and maize flour were impounded on May 15 by the South Sudan National Bureau of Standards (SSNBS) for alleged contamination with aflatoxin. The aggrieved drivers Tuesday pitched camp at BLD parking in Elegu Town Council and refused to cross into the South Sudan territory over what they describe as persistent harassment by government agencies in the neighboring country.

Isaac Katabazi, the Vice Chairperson of the Ugandan Trucker Drivers told Uganda Radio Network in an interview Wednesday that they won’t cross into South Sudan with merchandizes until their colleagues are released. He says their efforts to engage with the South Sudanese Authorities over the past weeks have failed to yield fruits arguing that they have instead resorted to a peaceful demonstration to show their grievances.

Early Last month, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem Minister was quoted in the media revealing that the South Sudan authorities had released all the Ugandan trucks impounded in Nimule. But Katabazi says the Minister’s statement was false arguing that no single truck has been released from South Sudan custody.

Katabazi has called on the government to intervene in the matter and engage with its counterpart to ensure the safe release of detained drivers and trucks before they can resume the export of goods. Margaret Auma, the Chairperson of Elegu Women Cross Border Cooperative Society says the current standoff between the South Sudan authorities and Uganda businessmen is detrimental to the bilateral relationship between the two states.

She says the protest is likely to create huge food insecurity in the neighbors and loss of income to Ugandan businessmen who rely on food export to Africa’s youngest nation.  Auma called on the South Sudan government to be transparent to reveal the evidence of the contamination of the goods seized from the Ugandan traders to solve the crisis.

“If it’s true that the products are substandard, let them confiscate the products and release the trucks to the owners to continue making money. I don’t advise that substandard products go into the market,” says Auma.

The Amuru Resident District Commissioner, Stephen Odong Latek says that they had already engaged with the South Sudan authorities to expedite the release of test results to confirm the cereals were substandard and contaminated with aflatoxin. He says they had been informed by their counterparts that the samples from the grains and flour impounded had been taken for testing at a Laboratory in Nairobi Kenya but wondered why the results have taken long.

“They believe they will complete the test and either give the go-ahead for the trucks to proceed or release them. But the test result is taking longer than necessary and we want to get back to them and ask them to take necessary actions quickly,” Latek told URN in an interview Wednesday.

He asked for calm from the aggrieved drivers as the government handles the matter at a diplomatic level. However, efforts by First Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga to intervene on the matter last month failed to bear fruits after she had asked her counterparts in South Sudan to release the trucks as they continue the investigation.

South Sudan remains one of the key export destinations for Ugandan products in the East African Community nations second to Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development monthly performance report of the economy released in February this year, Uganda exported merchandise to South Sudan worth USD 50.98 million and received 78.9% of the total exports to the East African Countries in December last year alone.