By Job Ronny Okot
Tensions are rising at the Elegu border and Pakwach fisheries stop checkpoint in Pakwach district, as South Sudanese traders and fishmongers from Arua city intensify their fight for the unconditional release of impounded fish.
The standoff, which has garnered attention from local leaders and law enforcement agencies, underscores the frustrations of traders caught in a bureaucratic tangle.
More than 200 fishmongers, predominantly women from West Nile and South Sudan, have converged at Pakwach bridge and the Elegu one-stop border post, demanding the release of their imported fish detained by the Ugandan Fisheries Protection Unit.
The traders allege extortion and arbitrary demands for unaccounted fees by the UPDF fisheries protection unit, despite clearance by Uganda Revenue Authority.
"The fishmongers, who are mostly women, threatened to take drastic measures if their fish, purchased with loan money, is not released," stated one of the protesting traders.
Leaders from West Nile have criticized government agencies for failing to coordinate activities and accused UPDF soldiers of unjustly impounding trucks carrying fish from South Sudan.
Pakwach District Chairman, Opito Robert Steam, and other traders have also raised allegations of corruption and extortion against Fisheries operation officers, calling for accountability and transparency in the handling of fisheries matters.
The impounded fish, worth millions of shillings in taxes, had already been cleared by Uganda Revenue Authority at the Elegu border point.
Lieutenant Colonel Mercy Tukahirwa, the commanding officer of the fisheries protection unit, has intervened to calm tensions, urging traders not to engage in the trade of immature fish.
In response to the outcry, the fisheries protection unit has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the impoundment of cleared fish at the Elegu border.
The protest has drawn the attention of regional leaders, who are actively engaging in resolving the matter and restoring normalcy to the affected traders' livelihoods.
As stakeholders work towards a resolution, the plight of the fishmongers underscores the need for effective coordination, transparency, and accountability in cross-border trade operations to ensure the smooth flow of goods and livelihood sustainability for traders in the region.