The Uganda – South Sudan Trade dispute has for the past two months escalated rapidly after the latter refused Uganda’s request to release the cargo trucks impounded on the pretext that goods they were exporting to South Sudan contained aflatoxins.
In May this year, over 74 Ugandan registered trucks transporting maize flour were held by South Sudan Bureau of Standards in an isolated parking, 7kms into South Sudan and on their way to Juba from Nimule.
The South Sudan government alleged that the trucks had been impounded for carrying aflatoxin affected maize flour which is not fit for human consumption.
On June 5, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, Edith Mwanje wrote to her South Sudanese counterpart suggesting various remedies to solve the crisis.
The Permanent Secretary called on South Sudan to make use of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) Laboratory facility in Gulu that was provided by TradeMark Africa (TMA) in July 2022 to check and confirm that the cargo poses no health threat, and is safe for human consumption.
Uganda also called on South Sudan to allow the truck drivers to offload the maize flour in a particular designated area and South Sudan Bureau of Standards continues with their investigation into the quality of the maize flour.
Uganda further called on its neighbour to release both the trucks and drivers to come back to Uganda for other businesses.
However, South Sudan turned a deaf ear, and never responded to Uganda’s requests.
This prompted Uganda’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs, Rebecca Kadaga to write directly to her South Sudanese counterpart, Deng Alor Kuol to unconditionally release all the trucks with their goods and allow them back to Uganda.
“Having not received any positive response to the above correspondence, it is now my considered opinion that you unconditionally release the vehicles containing all cargo and allow them free passage back into Uganda,” Kadaga wrote to her South Sudanese counterpart in June.
More than a month after Uganda demanded the release of its trucks, South Sudan had remained defiant.
South Sudan did not only decline Uganda’s request to allow Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to conduct an independent testing of goods, but also refused to release the trucks back to Uganda.
Although South Sudan National Bureau of Standards indicated that the maize flour contains high levels of aflatoxins which was used as a pretext to impound the trucks, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards said South Sudan did not provide proof to justify that the maize was contaminated, even after the Ugandan authorities insisted on acquiring the test results.
South Sudan authorities also reportedly denied Ugandan officials access to the impounded trucks so they could get samples for independent testing.
This week, Uganda decided to resolve the dispute diplomatically. The Minister for East African Affairs, Rebbeca Kadaga said that Uganda government has decided to take the matter to the East African Community (EAC) to find a solution to the impasse.
“We have asked the East African Community to send independent inspectors at the Elegu border. Trucks will come from South Sudan, park at the Elegu border, the inspectors will come and inspect, and tell us whether they have aflatoxins,” Kadaga told reporters in Kampala.
Just a day after Kadaga made the pronouncement, South Sudan has released some of the impounded trucks.
About 26 of the over 74 impounded trucks have been released by South Sudan.
Suspension of exports to South Sudan
Ugandan traders have announced that they have stopped exporting goods of all forms to South Sudan following the continued detention of 74 trucks. The strike started on Tuesday this week and will continue until Juba unconditionally releases all the trucks and the cargo in them.
Several towns in Uganda such as Mbale, Jinja, Tororo and Kampala have trucks that were destined for South Sudan parked. Other trucks are parked at the border town of Elegu.
Ugandan truck drivers also accuse South Sudan authorities of charging them visa fees to allow them entry into South Sudan yet both countries are member states of the East African Community.