ARUA. In Arua district’s Logiri sub county, a three-kilometre rough road that branches off the Arua-Vurra-Zombo road at Adraka leads to a tiny but vibrant trading centre that shares the same name with Uganda’s capital city.
The Kampala market is situated 25km from Arua town on the Uganda-DR Congo border.
But this market which has since been dissected into two by the recent border demarcation exercise can be rightly described as the food basket of the West Nile region.
On a typical market day, sacks of purchased foodstuff line the exit path bearing labels of the different districts for their final destination in the region; notably Pakwach, Koboko, Yumbe, Moyo and Adjumani.
Parked inside the sacks are cabbages, Irish potatoes, avocadoes, bananas (matooke) among others. Truckloads of food items are seen leaving the market as the owners sit on top of their merchandise.
Inside the trading centre itself, women vendors dominate the produce business.
Some seated on the bare ground, others kneeling and sweating due to the direct heat of the scorching sun; they display various items including tomatoes, sorghum, cassava flour, onions and fresh beans.
Majority of the buyers are mothers and girls. Carrying basins, plastic buckets and polythene bags, they stand or bend over to negotiate while purchasing food for their families.
Another section has stalls for fish vendors, apparel and general merchandise. This section is dominated by traders who travel from Arua town to look for customers.
Few metres from the fenced produce market is an auction centre for livestock, mostly goats, chicken and pigs.
Mr Martin Yoku, the Kampala market vendors’ association chairman says the trading centre is also a source for plenty of cheap timber.
“Our area has a lot of trees, so, we produce a lot of timber as well. But the timber price is very low and we do not have enough capital for expansion,” he explains.
In fact Mr Yoku has been a timber dealer for 20 years starting even before the trading centre sprung up. His business is still confined in the small shop room he started in.
Trading in this area began small in 2000 and it was based on the Congolese side of the border.
However the Congolese clerks were said to be overcharging Ugandan traders. They would charge both the seller and the buyer at the entry and exit point.
This prompted the Ugandans to start their own market on their side of the border. Because of the competition with the Congolese, they named the trading centre Kampala and the Congolese answered back by calling theirs Kinshasa.
The twin markets operate twice in a week on Thursday and Sunday.
Items sold at the markets are similar - direct produce from the gardens and in plentiful. This therefore caught the attention of traders in Arua and Paidha towns. Soon, people started coming from Pakwach, Maracha and Koboko and eventually the rest of the region.
In 2002, the first formal tender for Kampala market was awarded by Arua district.
Mr Jimmy Candia, the first contractor contrasts that the market was even more vivid in early 2000s than it is today.
He says that some time people would come with cooked food from Alangi and Zeu Sub counties in Zombo district to sell to traders. They do not come nowadays probably because local food stalls have been constructed.
Over all, the Kampala market outpaced its Kinshasa rival due to low market dues and no extra charges on buyers.
Mr Candia thinks this is why the Congolese bulk buyers now bypass Kinshasa to buy produce from Kampala much to the delight of local farmers, especially those selling cabbages and Irish potatoes.
While Ugandan bulk buyers tell the suppliers to measure their produce in basins in order to ask for free add-ons, the Congolese just negotiate the price for a whole sack and pay without delay.
Kampala is the biggest trading centre in Logiri Sub County and described as a first grade market by the district but the road to the market is one of the poorest.
Rugged, gullied and some sections filled with stagnant pools of water. The second access route from Bendulu primary school is even worse and traffic here is very confused with the Congolese riders following the right side of the road while Ugandans maintaining left while moving in the same direction.
More still, the market does not have a source of drinking water to cater for the big population of visitors.
Mr Candia says the protected spring that supplies the market is in DR Congo while Uganda’s borehole broke down long time ago without repair or replacement.
There are bars and shopping centres mushrooming without electricity for refrigeration and lighting.
Mr Jimmy Ali, the Logiri Sub County chief says development of Kampala market has been complicated by international intrigue between Uganda and DR Congo.
He says for instance the Sub County had purchased about four acres of land to construct a modern market but the border demarcation cut it into half making it difficult to put any tangible development there.
“We had planned to give plots to businessmen and build lockups. That is very risky now because we do not want people to risk their resources,” he said.
Mr Ali said they would consult further to see if people can be advised to construct semi permanent structures for temporary use.