Day 7 - Welcome to Uganda!

After traveling through Kenya for a week, it was time for our first border crossing. We were very excited to go to Uganda (Jeroen’s first time, Emma’s first time purposely going there). While Jeroen broke up camp, Emma made some peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast so that we were able to leave early.

The road to the border would take us about 2 hours and then another 2 hours from the border to our next destination, Mbale in Uganda. We expected the border crossing to take between 1,5 and 3 hours, so we were up for a long day. It was strange waking up with the idea that we would be doing our first border crossing of this trip. We planned to use the Busia border stop. We would have to take a little detour, but we had read that this border stop was much more relaxed than the Malaba border stop. At Malaba, there are usually many truckers and a lot of ‘fixers’. These fixers are people who offer to do all the necessary things for you, in exchange for some money. As we were very well prepared with a CPD (Carnet de Passage Douane), for importing and exporting the car, and our COMESA (multiple country third-party insurance), we felt confident and in no need of a fixer.

While we were driving towards Busia, we slowly felt the tension rise in the car. Jeroen was quite excited about the upcoming crossing, Emma was more anxious about what was going to happen. As we arrived at the Kenyan side of Busia, we were quickly greeted by people waving at us. Several men started to follow us as we passed them, running after the car. This ‘aggressive’ way of Kenyans trying to get our business is something we have grown used to over the years, but we are really hoping that we do not encounter this in other countries. We drove until we saw the border buildings, where all the magic was about to happen.

The first stop would be the KRA (Kenyan Revenue Authority) stop. This is where we would ‘export’ our car. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t even necessary, as we have a Kenyan car and we have the CPD. The people who were running after our car, were patiently waiting outside our car as we got all our ‘important papers’ together. We told them multiple times that we did not wanted nor needed their help, but they seemed adamant to be of assistance. Jeroen bravely said that he would fix this border crossing and as soon as he opened the car door, the ‘fixers’ swarmed around him to tell him he brought the wrong documents and that they would be ‘the one’ to help us fix our mess.

At the KRA stop, the official looked a bit strange when we showed the CPD. Probably because we were not supposed to have it checked out from Kenya, but we are not sure about this to date. The stamping of the CPD went by easily, but of course it took some time. The lady said she would send us an invoice for the road tax, which seemed odd as we have a Kenyan registered vehicle. As soon as they realized this, we were good to go without extra payment.

The next stop would be immigration. At Busia this is a ‘one-stop-post’, meaning you would enter one building, go to the official of the country you are leaving, then to the next counter which will have an official of the country you are entering and then onward. The immigration building we had to go to, was on the Ugandan side of the border and a police officer quickly saw his chance when he saw Jeroen trying to find where that building was. The ‘friendly’ police officer told us we were at the wrong place (which we knew) and ‘showed’ us the correct building, which we had already found in the meantime. He then kept on talking about the things we would have to do (which were quite obvious) and when we thanked him to be on our way, he of course wanted something in return, asking for ‘something for food’. We offered him one of our peanut butter sandwiches, but apparently they were beneath him, as he simply wanted money. We told him we didn’t have any (which we didn’t), and we left him disappointed.

We drove up to the border gate, where we were stopped by the border official. He raised the gate for us and told us to park, so he could investigate our car. One downside of having a rooftop tent, is that it does attract attention. After he thoroughly investigated our papers, he wanted to see what we were bringing into Uganda, not directly believing that our packed car held nothing of immense value, but instead just our stuff to survive when camping (cooking and camping gear, toiletries, etc.). After having inspected our car and stuff, we were on our way to the next stop, the Ugandan immigration.

We both had to do this in person, so this was also Emma’s time to shine. The one-stop immigration worked great. We got stamped out of one country and into the next relatively quickly and without much fuss, except for the harassment we have gotten used to as ‘wazungu’ in Kenya. The same also ‘fixers’ kept seeing us and offering to ‘help’ us, but we found that we were well underway.

The final step would be the URA (Ugandan Revenue Authorities), where we would import our car. They stamped our CPD and made an invoice for the road tax we had to pay. This payment had to be done at the bank, in cash, but the printer for the invoice was broken (of course). So Jeroen went to the URA service center, picked the invoice from the printer, was escorted by the bank branch manager to the ATM and after paying, we were able to get our stamped CPD back.

In the meantime, there was a ‘fixer’ at the Ugandan side who tried to convince us that our COMESA insurance wasn't enough and that we needed separate third party insurance. We found it funny and annoying at the same time, that those ‘fixers’ tried to complicate things by lying to you, so they can get your ‘business’ by selling you things you don’t need. At the Kenyan side they would try to convince you that you need the COMESA insurance, but only the one from Kenya because the Ugandan COMESA somehow wouldn’t be accepted. Then in Uganda, they would say that the COMESA is actually not enough in Uganda and that you need separate third-party insurance (despite the COMESA being exactly that- third party insurance). We had already researched this extensively and we knew that we were well prepared, but they did have us hesitating for a minute. Since we do not want to be stopped by police somewhere in Uganda to find out that we did not have the correct insurance, when picking up the receipt from the tax Jeroen quadruple-checked with the official at URA whether we were set to go with a CPD and the COMESA. Just to make sure, she called a colleague to confirm and we were indeed good to go. After only 75 minutes (!) we were already en-route to our next stop, Mbale.

The road to Mbale felt a bit odd. We were in another country, but it was so similar to Kenya that it felt like we hadn’t left the country at all. The biggest difference was that there was less traffic than we are used to and more police stops. The police officers were not really paying attention to us and we could continue to Mbale without any delay and stress. Maybe that was the big difference.

In Mbale, we were staying at Jane’s place, that we found through AirBNB. When we arrived, she was just about to go out. A perfect opportunity for us to let her guide us to the neares MTN shop, where we could get our local SIM cards. The process was relatively smooth. Filling out a form and then waiting for it to be activated. We are familiar with waiting ’10 minutes’ in Kenya, so we decided to wait those minutes at a coffee shop where we had lunch. After lunch Jeroen’s SIM went through, but apparently Emma’s SIM had an error, meaning she had to go through the exact same process again. This meant we could get another coffee. Fortunately, this time everything was fine and we both had our local SIMncards! A very productive day.

We went back to Jane’s, had a nice shower and were allowed to join her for dinner, which was lovely traditional Ugandan food. Our first day in Uganda was a success!

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