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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 16:40 GMT
Kenya chaos hits Uganda economy
By Abraham Odeke
BBC News, Malaba, eastern Uganda

In the Ugandan town of Malaba, not even the sex trade has escaped the shockwaves from the political violence just over the border in Kenya.

Traders with bicycles
Bicycle taxis are operating across the border, but not the buses
"We have lost our customers to these Kenyan girls who have decided to reduce the sex charges," says Claire, who operates a brothel near Dombolo Executive pub.

"Until they return to Kenya we shall continue incurring heavy losses. Every man has focused their attention on the cheaper Kenyans."

In the few days since violence broke out, more than 1,000 Kenyans have fled across the border into Uganda: many of them members of the Kikuyu ethnic group who have fled attacks by opposition supporters who see them as government sympathisers.

About 800 Kenyans are camped inside the St Jude Catholic Church Primary School in the northern area of Malaba town, which has been brought into service as reception centre. Another 500 have occupied the lodgings and the hotels triggering acute shortage of cheap accommodation in the border town.

Preparing food at the reception centre
Margaret says neighbours turned against her after the election

"Our own immediate neighbours and friends turned against us, as if we were the real Mwai Kibaki (Kenyan President), whom they accuse of rigging the elections," says Margaret, who used to operate a booming electronics shop near the Railway Bridge, on the Malaba-Busia Road before she run into Uganda carrying only her one-year-old baby.

"I actually can't imagine that I am now in this unfamiliar village endowed with mosquitoes," says Margaret, who is now among the volunteer cooks preparing porridge and other meals for the children at the noisy St Jude School reception centre.

'Economically finished'

Jeremy Kamau and his wife Agnes, also at St Jude School, regret that all the wealth they amassed after several years of hard work just vanished in a split second.

I saw some police officers who fired at the heavy padlocks on our shop doors to offer the looters access to the buildings
Paul Murunga, refugee

"We are economically finished. Everything has been turned upside down. I do not know the devil which made me buy the piece of land on which we live in western Kenya."

Mrs Kamau says hundreds of youths chanting the pro-Orange Democratic Movement slogans first raided her supermarket in the centre of Malaba town early in the morning and carried away everything.

The same people stormed her farm and rustled all the cows, the pigs and the chickens.

Nearly all the refugees I spoke to accused the Kenya police at Malaba of providing "extra protection" to the violent youths as they ransacked the supermarkets, the pharmacies and the hardware shops.

"I saw some police officers who fired at the heavy padlocks on our shop doors to offer the looters access to the buildings," Paul Murunga said.

"We need an investigation into the biased behaviour of some of the Kenya policemen on the streets of Malaba town," he added.

The Ugandan government, which has congratulated President Mwai Kibaki for winning the contested elections, has tightened security around the reception camps and along the River Malaba which forms the natural boundary between Uganda and Kenya.

Trade shutdown

Meanwhile, cross-border trade has almost halted. Before the chaos in Kenya there was a steady flow of cargo trucks and the long-distance buses that crossed the border.

Trains have been halted at the border

Now the border posts are quiet, and all you can see are the boda-boda (bicycle taxi) operators ferrying passengers to and from the border.

John Ozo, a customs clearing agent in Malaba, is disappointed that the political crisis in Kenya has triggered poverty and near starvation among the people who earn their living by clearing the cargo trucks on behalf of the Uganda revenue Authority and the Kenya Revenue authority.

At the station on the Kenyan side of the border, locomotives are standing still with wagons loaded with foodstuffs for the World Food Programme, and the fuel badly needed by landlocked Kampala.

Apart from the motorists who have been hit by the fuel shortages, the majority of the ordinary villagers in eastern Uganda can no longer find kerosene for lighting their candles and other basic essentials they used to fetch cheaply from across the border in Kenya.

The officials of the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) which operates the Nairobi-Kampala trains said they were optimistic that all the stranded cargo destined for Kampala would cross into Uganda by the end of the week, following an assurance by the senior security at the border that they would escort the trains into Uganda.

Equally affected are the money changers dealing in dollars and the east African currencies.

There is decreased demand for the currencies, especially Kenyan shillings, because all the shops and the petrol stations where the Ugandans used to ferry huge volumes of essential commodities and fuel in Kenya have remained closed.

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