Regional integration: What it means for Busia residents

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya officially open the Busia one-stop border post on February 24, 2018.

What you need to know:

  • For local communities, it turns out their version of integration is not just a border post.

  • Ugandan trades say the border post allows enjoy enhanced free trade and movement compared to yesteryears.
  • But some Kenyan traders, especially clearing agents and those in the hospitality industry, have found the going tough, too.

When Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni officially opened the improved border crossing at Busia, they jointly said they were implementing their commitment to expand trade by freeing movement of people.

Known as the Busia one-stop border post opened in February at a cost of about Sh1.2 billion with the facilitation of Trade Mark East Africa.

Away from the dignitaries, media, pomp and colour of the opening ceremony, the Nation spent time with border communities to get a perspective of the regional integration. 

At Buyengo village, deep in Busia on the Ugandan side, 67-year-old Alfred Mang’eni tells of a story that shows no borders have actually ever existed.  He is, technically, now a Ugandan resident. But he is Kenyan, too.


His father is a Kenyan from Luchululo village in Samia sub-county of Busia but he also bought land in Jinja in Uganda where he was born with other six siblings.

“Years ago we could visit our relatives in Kenya without many restrictions. We used to cross via the lake using boats,” he told the Nation.

“At the moment a lot has changed and we have to produce documents to relevant authorities. At the main Busia border, we were never issued with permits to grant us entry to Kenya and vice-versa,” said Mr Mang’eni in his native Samia language also spoken mainly in Funyula Constituency in Busia County.

For the Samia, the border between Kenya and Uganda at Busia cut their homeland right in the middle, dividing families and clans as colonialists went about partitioning Africa. Today, it is common for children from one side to go to school in institutions across the boundary.

When the permits were introduced early in the 80s, he said they had to check their movements. Locals had to adjust to the sudden restriction of being in the country for a maximum of a week for every entry.


The old man says they struggled with that change. Then they defied it. Then authorities had to change tack and do what wananchi want; which is to allow free movement of people.

Today, authorities demand that visitors must have at least a national ID and a yellow fever certificate to cross. Still, there is a favourable treatment of border communities. One is allowed to cross either side as long as it is within 10 kilometres from the border point.

Uganda’s Busia District Resident Commissioner Hussein Matanda said as local administrators their intention has always been to strengthen integration beyond the border points to the region and probably the African continent.

“In the interest of fostering integration, we at the border have already implemented many bilateral arrangements that have enabled our people to move freely in a radius of 10 kilometres with only an identity card.


“There are so many Kenyan students schooling here in Uganda with some of our people also seeking healthcare services across,” he said.

“Kenya is our biggest trading partner and this can only get better if we foster integration. People are forming economic blocks and military alliances to make sure they are a force to reckon with. Remaining fragmented is a sign of weakness.”

For local communities, it turns out their version of integration is not just a border post. They do it through intermarriages.

“During our time, we had few encounters with smuggled goods sneaked through unsanctioned entry points,” Mr Mang’eni.


The Samia, Iteso, Banyala, Acholi/Japadhola (the mirror community of the Kenyan Luos) and the Abagisu, who mirror the Kenyan Bukusu, have often married from one another. The result, as Mr Mang’eni explained, was that one can wake up speaking one language and go to bed speaking another.

Locals told the Nation that the Kenya-Uganda integration has, nonetheless, enhanced the relationship between communities living along the border.

Mukasa Hakim, a Ugandan money changer at Sofia slums just a stone throw away from the Busia border post said they now enjoy enhanced free trade and movement compared to yesteryears.

“We can cross to Kenya any time without restrictions. We interact with our Kenyan colleagues freely. Previous trust concerns between us constrained our interactions ,” said Mr Hakim who has been exchanging money for the last six years.

However, integration has come with its own challenges as Mukabi Alushula, Kenya’s Busia County Referral Hospital medical superintendent, states.


“Our resources are being constrained because we are not able to cater for medical needs of a huge number of patients visiting the facility every day. Some Ugandans have acquired Kenyan identity cards and it very difficult to deny them access to services,” he said. 

Some Kenyan traders, especially clearing agents and those in the hospitality industry, have found the going tough, too. They said they have been pushed out of business at the expense of their Ugandan counterparts following the commissioning of the Busia entry point.

The chairman of Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association Busia Branch, Joseph Ouma said they are big losers as a result of integration.

“The number of clearing agents has dropped from 300 to 100. More than 300 trucks which pass through Busia customs now park in the Ugandan side. The creation of the one-stop border post

has resulted in closure of companies which were handling export goods.


“We are appealing to the government to review the customs laws so that we don't lose our jobs because of the facility,” he said.

Mr Geoffrey Waswa, the manager of Nalongo Pub –a popular border establishment on the Ugandan side – said integration has boosted business and interaction between the border communities.

The establishment is mostly flocked by Kenyans eager to quench their thirst every day.

“We receive over 70 customers every day most of them Kenyans. They are attracted by our affordable prices on key Kenyan brands available,” he said.

This has been received with pain by Kenyan hotel and bar owners who said integration is pushing them to the periphery due to heavy taxes.


Mr Francis Kubebea, the Busia Tourism Association chairman, appealed to both the county and national governments to intervene with legislation that will foster a level playing ground.

“We support East African integration fully but we are disadvantaged by the price structure of some the key commodities and services. For instance, a Kenyan beer brand in Uganda is very affordable at less than Sh100 compared to Sh200 back home.

“The diversity in pricing between us and Uganda has caused a serious market dichotomy. We appeal to the government to review tax rates on beers especially those ending at the border. That will help the industry realise full potential,” said Mr Kubebea.