Trade Unions in Apiriti border market say lack of well-developedbusiness facilities at the crossing point is the single biggest challenge tofull trade between Uganda and South Sudan.
The market in Madi Opei Sub County in Lamwo district is popular for bringing together traders from Eastern African countries of Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda.
Merchandize are currently displayed on the ground in the market that was opened two years ago, thanks to the return of peace to northern Uganda. It is currently operating in open spaces under the heat of the scorching sunshine. Rains often disrupt business in the market popular for sale of agricultural produce and strong alcoholic gins, most of which are locally brewed in Uganda.
Albino Oyoo, the Chairperson of South Sudan Trade Union,says they are facing insurmountable challenges to trade with their counterparts in Uganda and Kenya due to lack of accommodation, banking, and medical facilities among others at the market.
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Oyoo says proximity of the market makes it strategic for Africa's newest nation that still heavily depends on Uganda for food. He says lack of banking facilities is pushing his members to the risky practice of carrying large volumes of cash. This, he says, has promoted robbery inside South Sudan and delayed trade as members visit banks in Kitgum to exchange currencies.
The challenge is shared by members of Madi Opei - Apiriti Cross Border Traders Association, the union of Ugandan traders at the market. Margret Ocitti Atek, the Vice chairperson of the association,says lack of warehousing is affecting supply of merchandize from Ugandan traders to the market. She says the market is currently sitting on only 200 meter-piece of land, 13 kilometers inside Uganda due to border disputes making it hard for investors to step in and put permanent infrastructure. According to Atek, the challenges have reduced the operation of the market to twice a month, every 17th and 18th. This she says is causing traders and government to lose significantly in revenues.
The unions want government to expedite there solution of borderline disputes between Uganda and South Sudan that threaten the development of the market. They say developing the market like other cross border markets will promote full trade and fast-track integration of South Sudan into the East African Community (EAC). David Oola, a member of Madi Opei â€“ Apiriti Cross Border Association, says local entrepreneurs are eager to undertake the development of the market due to the huge opportunities it offers.
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Apiriti border market is currently operating with hastily made makeshift mud and wattle huts, and grass thatched shades for stalls. Although the market has a signpost for immigration office, very few police personnel have been deployed to man the facility.
Oola says with vast land in the region, the missing infrastructure can easily be realized with proper community private sector partnerships.
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The Ministry of Trade and Industry has maintained that it will develop the markets with the aid of the Common Markets for East and Central Africa (COMESA).
Oundo Godfrey Ongwabe, the COMESA regional Chairperson for Cross Border Trade and chairman of Uganda National Cross Border Traders'Association, says government and COMESA is achieving progress in developing the cross-border markets by empowering communities to form cross border associations. The Associations he says will lobby for the development of the markets at various forums including World Trade Organization (WTO), African Union (AU), SADC, EAC Secretariat and the COMESA.
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Oundo says after formation of associations, government and COMESA will move to disburse 10 billion shillings to each of them for construction of all round infrastructure that supports import and export trade among countries.