By Patrick Kagenda
Hirome Mayanja Sabbehe, the director of Shamila Contractors, was the chairman of the Uganda business community in south Sudan from 2005 to the beginning of 2007.
He dealt in human drugs in Malakal in the Upper Nile State of south Sudan. It was here that he met Maj. Teah Gajiek. But Maj. Gajiek did not want human drugs; he wanted Hirome’s pick-up truck. Events took a tragic turn when Hirome refused to hand over the truck.
“The man sweet talked me into selling him my pick-up and when I refused because we failed to agree on the money, he turned against me, framed me by calling me a thief and I was detained in a military detention camp for over six months,” says Hirome.
Showing a big wound on his hand, Hirome says Maj.Gajiek took him to an official called an attorney general and charged him with stealing his US$3000 (Approx. Shs 6 million) when in reality it was Hirome’s money and goods worth Shs 34 million that he offloaded off a ferry at Malakal that were missing.
Hirome`s story is one of many that are becoming common among Ugandan traders doing business in the south Sudan.
Frustrated traders under their leading organisation, the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) are threatening to close trading relations with South Sudan over the increasing harassment, torture and mistreatment.
KACITA spokesperson Issa Ssekito says negotiations are on but so are plans for a demonstration at the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) liaison office in Kampala.
“We have instituted a committee where Kacita has two members, GoSS liaison office two members, ministry of foreign affairs one member and the Uganda police one member,” he said.
At the centre of the disputes is the case of Rashid Manafa, a businessman who says his vehicles were forcefully grabbed by Mark Maywen, a bodyguard to GoSS President Salva Kiir. Rashid Manafa reported his case against Maywen to the GoSS minister for Legal and Constitutional Development and the GoSS Attorney General. However, summons served on Maywen through the ministry of Foreign Affairs have not be answered.
“If traders are denied justice, what do you expect them to do?” asks Ssekito, “What is hurting most is that after it was agreed that Manafa`s case be solved, in a sudden turn of events, the south Sudanese made forgeries in Kampala and they cannot be prosecuted in courts of law.”
Ugandan traders have since 2007 been complaining of denial of justice and fair play. They accuse the Sudanese of depriving them of due payment for goods and services they render them.
They say that despite efforts by KACITA, the Uganda minister for Internal Affairs at the time, Ruhakana Rugunda, the GoSS liaison office in Kampala, the Ugandan ministry of Foreign Affairs and the courts of law in Uganda to have justice, the GoSS authorities have not helped. The traders say they have forwarded their cases to the international police, Interpol, which has done little but merely cautioned them that the Sudanese are very difficult to deal with.
The latest frustration is the refusal by the GoSS to receive summons given directly through the Uganda ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Ugandan traders are now compiling a list of all traders who have been denied justice in southern Sudan. They are also writing to the Inspector General of Police, asking for permission to hold a peaceful demonstration of the aggrieved business people towards the GoSS liaison office in Nakasero in central Kampala.
“It is now time to stop injustice meted against Ugandans by the south Sudanese without redress,” Ssekito says, “If the message is not picked, we shall convene as Kacita, and see how we can block business to south Sudan. We can mobilise our members to block business between south Sudan and Uganda.”
He adds: “Uganda is more stable than south Sudan, and the Ugandan economy is more stable. If we implemented a business blockade, it’s the south Sudanese to suffer more. South Sudan does not have the capacity to feed itself, provide its own manpower; virtually, in everything they are dependent on Uganda.
In reality, however, the Sudanese and Ugandans need each other to thrive. That is why both need better trade relations.