Salia Musala is a dusty little trading centre riddled with grass thatched houses of cone shaped roofs and a handful of iron roofed shops and kiosks.

This remote centre situated at the northwestern tip of the West Nile region is one of the places Koboko district officials are proud to second to any tourists and adventure lovers who visit the district.

In fact the Koboko deputy chief administrative officer Mr Simon Alonga calls it an exciting and peculiar place.

Its charm lies in the fact that it’s the meeting juncture for three international boundaries of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

In its vicinity the Ati and Ayapi hills on the DR Congo side and the Rego hill on the South Sudan part of the divide form a gorgeous arc of scenic beauty.

While River Kaya which forms the bulk of the Uganda-South Sudan border along the Northern limits of West Nile starts about 100 metres down from the tri-point.

Residents say those who demarcated the border during the colonial times had put three stones in the shape of a traditional African cooking oven to locate the meeting point, hence the name Salia Musala.

The name comes from two Kakwa wards Salia which means cooking stones and Musala which means three. Salia Musala therefore means the three cooking stones.

But to the residents of Salia Musala, the place is not really that exciting apart from people of the same traditional and cultural lineage been divided into three countries.

There is actually nothing that shows the tri-point right now with the three stones long gone.

A bulging fig tree under which people from the three countries gather for Sunday prayers is now the thing perceived to represent the triple border meeting point.

A motorable Ugandan security road west of the fig tree separates Uganda from DR Congo while to indicate the Uganda South Sudan border the residents deliberately constructed two grass thatched houses a meter apart with the view that the borderline passes in-between the two. 

Reduced business activity

Salia Musala appears less vibrant today than it was four years ago when groundnut and other produce business boomed.

Most joints that sold cooked food to the traders have closed down as the number of traders going there has significantly gone down.

Mrs Monday Ariye, a 19-year-old mother of four children attributes the marked reduction in trading activity to insecurity in the insurgent wrecked South Sudan.

Sporadic gunshots coming from further afield north of Salia Musala is a near constant event that it appears some of the guns are just fired for the sake of firing.

The Kifua wazi detach of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces is located about two kilometres from Salia Musala along the security access road that connects to the major Koboko-Oraba road.

The soldiers are under orders to escort all tourists and visitors from the Ugandan side to Salia Musala owing to the fragile security situation in the neighbourhood.

Congolese soldiersCongolese soldiers stationed on the DRC side of Salia Musala. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

Forming the physical presence of security at Salia Musala are the armed forces of DR Congo. Again their presence does not excite people like Mrs Ariye who thinks the solders are just there to extort money from traders who make forays into DR Congo in search of produce.

“When you hear them shouting it is because someone has declined to pay,” she says while pointing at a check point set under the shade of a mango tree.

The female traders who go on foot are charged Ugandan sh200 to go into Congo. The men both on foot and on motorcycles part with sh500 while motorcyclists are setback sh1,000 to obtain the soldiers’ nod to get into Congolese territory.

The collections do not usually get into state coffers but end up in alcoholic bars on the Ugandan side of the trading centre.

But Ugandans or South Sudanese with gardens on the DR Congo side of the divide crisscross free of any disturbance. In fact local housing materials such as building poles, grass and reed as well as firewood for cooking are all got from DR Congo.

No school, health facilities

Two housesTwo houses in two countries at Salia Musala. The left house is in South Sudan while its Right side neighbour is in Uganda, the residents say. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

Salia Musala is a place not gifted with social amenities such as disco or cinemas. Children of school going age walk to Mena Primary school deep inside Uganda.

There is no source of clean drinking water that the residents fetch water from River Kaya for domestic use.

Health facilities are so far that for most ailments, residents resort to herbs and leaves of what they think are medicinal plants.

Oraba health centre II and Keri health centre II which respectively are 5km and 12km away in Uganda are the nearest health facilities to the Salia Musala residents.

For complicated or serious ailments, the people have to take the 23km trek to Koboko health centre IV in Koboko town.