Three civil society groups in Uganda have filed a lawsuit against the governments of Rwanda and Uganda in the East African Court of Justice over the continued border closure between the two countries. The closure - now in its fourth month - has resulted in financial losses not only for the two governments, but also for local business people.
On February 27, the government of Rwanda closed the border posts of Gatuna-Katuna in Kabale district and Cyanika in Kisoro district. Today, the border posts are still closed.
Three regional civil society organizations - including the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade information and Negotiations Institute - say they filed a suit on June 21. The lawsuit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction against the governments of Rwanda and Uganda to keep them from closing the border posts between the countries and ensure the free movement of people and trade.
Sheila Kawamara, the executive director of the East African Sub Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women, says the court case is about restitution.
“The suit against the two governments is aimed at ensuring that the losses incurred by the business community, the farmers and the citizens and society at large are audited and the concerned parties are adequately compensated,” Kawamara said.
Assan Nsimiraho has been doing cross-border business for ten years, dealing in beans, peas and cassava flour exported to Rwanda. He says alternative routes offered by Rwanda were also affected by the border closure, such as areas in the Kabale district affiliated to Gatuna-Katuna border post.
Nsimiraho says they have been denied permission to collect their goods imported into Rwanda.
“For the Rwandese side, they were allowed to take their goods back home. But to our side, even when you go to Rwanda revenue customs, you can find some bags of beans. They were denied us to take back to our country. So, if the government can do something about it, I think they should compensate us,” Nsimiraho said.
In June, Rwanda re-opened the border and allowed trucks in for just 12 days.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry says since the closure in February, Uganda’s exports to Rwanda are down from $660 million to about $203 million. Rwanda also reports a loss of about $104 million.
Amelia Kyambadde, Uganda’s minister for trade and industry, says the government has not responded to the lawsuit as officials discuss what she describes as a complicated matter.
“But I’d advise Ugandans also to look for other routes. I know I was advocating for DRC at one point, but now, there’s now the challenge of Ebola. But Rwandans there are still in talks from the top level. Let us leave it to our principals. While we will negotiate also with our colleagues, the minister,” Kyambadde said.
Gatuna-Katuna border post has historically been the major crossing point for cargo trucks and cross border trade, both formal and informal, heading to Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently, trucks allowed into Rwanda are only those for transit goods to Burundi and the DRC.