By David Awori
Hundreds of Ugandans are currently crossing the Busia border into Kenya to buy cheap goods, especially textiles, ahead of Christmas.
Mr David Basalirwa, a trader and resident of Bugiri District, says he prefers to buy textiles from Kenya because they are cheap compared to buying them in Iganga District and other Ugandan towns.
“I buy many clothes in Kenya with KShs1,000 (about Shs24,000), yet with the same money in Uganda, I will only buy one cloth,” Mr Basalirwa said on Tuesday, adding that because the clothes in Kenya are cheap, he is able to get good profit after selling in Uganda.
The latest development is in sharp contrast to the past, where Kenyans instead flocked to Uganda in droves to buy mostly textiles.
Such a shift in business is partly attributed to the declining value of the Kenyan currency against the Ugandan Shilling – which has made goods in Kenya cheaper compared to Uganda.
Last year, the Kenyan Shilling was trading at KSh35 against the Ugandan currency, meaning if one had 1KSh, they would get Shs35; but currently, it has hit as low as KSh24.5, accounting for a drop in value by about KShs11 over a period of one year.
Ms Deborah Babirye, who traveled all the way from Namayingo District to Busia border town on Monday to buy curtains from Kenya, says the relatively low prices of goods is pushing traders to buy clothes during the festive season to make some good profit.
Ms Babirye says she has bought two pairs of curtains at KShs400 (about Shs9,000) and hopes to resale each in Namayingo at Shs40,000.
Mr Ivan Wandera, a resident of Busime Sub-county in Busia District, says he crossed the border into Kenya to buy trousers cheaply. “I have bought each trouser at KShs250 (about Shs6,000) which could have cost me not less than Shs15,000 back home (in Uganda),” he says.
Mr James Wanjala, a Kenyan and a resident of Burumba Ward in Busia-Kenya, says he is “surprised” by the big number of Ugandans crossing into Kenya to buy commodities, adding that he has never witnessed such an influx of Ugandans crossing into Kenya for shopping.
Mr Wanjala says he thinks the Ugandan economy is doing better than Kenya, and that Ugandans “have the money to shop at whatever cost”.
“We have less than a week until Christmas, but I am yet to do any shopping for myself, children and my wife in terms of food and clothes,” Mr Wanjala added.
Mr Baker Ssebanakitta, a resident at the border, says he has witnessed Kenyans crossing into Uganda to buy food and textiles, while Ugandans, on the other hand, are mainly buying textiles from Kenya.
Mr Eddy Juma, a resident of Airstrip in Busia-Kenya, says he was in Uganda to shop because of its “good quality textiles”, the unfavorable exchange rate notwithstanding.
Ms Christine Juma, a resident of Kakamega in Kenya , says she prefers buying Kitenge, an East African cotton fabric printed in various colours and designs with distinctive borders, used especially by women, from Uganda because of its “very good quality”.
Mr Ibrahim Wairagala, who sells assorted merchandise along Custom Road in Busia town, says his sales were still too low compared to previous years.
“In the past, we would have Kenyans flocking to our shops during this (Christmas) period, but for this particular Christmas, the numbers are too low,” Mr Wairagala said.
Mr Francis Magambo, a trader dealing in textiles, says the falling exchange rates of the Kenyan Shilling against the Ugandan currency is the cause for the low business.