Mbale, where truckers are like manna for extortion by city authorities

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Mbale, where truckers are like manna for extortion by city authorities
Fuel tankers with petroleum products | Courtesy

Authorities in Mbale City arrest and detain truckers on flimsy excuses and compel them to pay up to Shs1 million fpr their release

INVESTIGATIONS | The Mbale-Soroti Highway, a vital segment of the Great North Road connecting Mombasa to South Sudan, has become the scene of horrifying incidents of illegal detention and extortion.

Recent revelations have implicated Mbale City Council officials in a corruption scandal involving the extortion of foreign cargo truck drivers traversing through the city.

The scandal was brought to light by concerned citizens and eyewitnesses who reported instances of truck drivers being stopped, detained, and coerced into paying large sums of money by city council officers before the release of the driver.

The officials particularly accuse truck drivers of deviating from designated routes, such as Nabuyonga Rise and Mugisu Hill, meant for heavy trucks, and venturing into the city center.

Critics argue that the arrests and fines imposed on the truck drivers are baseless, as there is no law prohibiting trucks from passing through the city center.

While an alternative route was established to reduce traffic congestion and accidents, it does not negate the drivers' right to choose their route.

The fines collected from these illicit activities are not being remitted to the city coffers but instead are pocketed by  corrupt officials.

This blatant abuse of power has sparked outrage among the public.

Our findings

To verify claims of illicit detention and extortion, we camped at a crucial intersection where the reported incidents were said to occur.

Arriving at the "V" junction promptly at 5pm, where Nabuyonga Rise Street meets Kumi Road, I joined concerned onlookers. Faces marked with empathy, and whispers of concern hung in the air as a troubling scene unfolded before us.

A truck driver (Reg No. KDM 127Q), seemingly going about his business was intercepted by a team that trailed him in a white Mark II.

Officials on the Mbale city law enforcement team emerged from the Mark II and arrested the truck driver, whisking him away in their vehicle.

Our attempts to trail their vehicle were fruitless.

The driver left behind a truck under the care of a turnboy, who confirmed the events, saying the driver was taken away purportedly to be shown the correct route.

The turnboy's attempts to reach the missing driver on his mobile phone went unanswered for hours, fueling suspicions of foul play.

Despite efforts by concerned residents to alert the Resident City Commissioner and the Northern Division Police Commander, no immediate action was taken. The driver's whereabouts remained unknown for several hours.

It wasn't until 8pm that the driver was returned to his truck in the same Mark II registration number UAR 166N. However, his demeanor was one of fury and resentment towards both the officials and Ugandan authorities in general.

The driver, Nyasho Chuma, revealed that he had been extorted of Ksh30,000, equivalent to Shs800,000, to secure his release from detention.

“This is my salary; thirty thousand Kenya money is a lot,” Chuma lamented, revealing that he was detained within the precepts of the Mbale Municipal court where the officers demand Shs1 million to secure his release but he was bailed out by his sister who managed to send KShs30,000 mobile money.

Chuma further revealed that the officials forced him to withdraw the money from his phone at an MPesa agent in Mbale town and handed it to his detainers for his release.

To back his claim, Chuma availed us with the Mpesa transaction confirming message. The driver, whose cargo was destined for South Sudan, said he was already paying road user fees and expected guidance, not harassment, from the authorities.

The driver revealed that more four drivers were still in detention negotiating their release at the said Municipal court.

His experience has left him disillusioned with Ugandan authorities, prompting him to consider lodging a formal complaint with the Kenyan Ambassador to Uganda.

While an alternative route was established to reduce traffic congestion and accidents, it does not negate the drivers' right to choose their route.

These illicit operations are conducted from morning till night.

Mbale City denunciation

James Kutosi, the public relations officer of Mbale City, has vehemently condemned the illicit practices.

In a statement addressing the recent allegations, Kutosi clarified the route situation, asserting that the road passing through the city center is, in fact, the Great North Road.

He further disclosed that Mbale City authorities are actively engaged in discussions with the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to formalize the diversion of heavy trucks through the city centre.

Regarding the designated route for heavy trucks, Kutosi revealed that Nabuyonga Rise and Mugisu Hill, previously preferred routes, are currently closed for major maintenance works.

These routes are yet to be officially reopened as they are still under the jurisdiction of the contractor responsible for the maintenance works.

Implication of illicit practice

The implications of this corruption scandal extend beyond the immediate financial burden imposed on truck drivers.

It threatens to disrupt the essential flow of goods along the Mbale-Soroti Highway, which plays a pivotal role in regional trade dynamics, jeopardizing the livelihoods of businesses reliant on the smooth flow of goods.

Indeed, the repercussions of this scandal extend far beyond individual culprits and the borders of Mbale City. The exploitation of foreign truck drivers tarnishes the city's reputation and reflects poorly on Uganda as a whole.

Such unethical behavior undermines the trust and goodwill of foreign nationals, potentially souring diplomatic relations and fostering resentment towards innocent Ugandans.

The actions of these corrupt officials have the potential to ignite future hostility and retaliation against Uganda, painting the entire nation with the brush of dishonesty and exploitation.

This not only damages Uganda's image on the international stage but also erodes the trust and credibility that are vital for fostering positive relationships with other countries.

Every citizen bears a responsibility to uphold the positive image of their country, and these reprehensible acts by a few individuals betray that trust.

Swift and decisive action must be taken to hold those responsible accountable for their actions and to restore faith in Uganda's commitment to integrity and transparency.

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