BWERA - It's market day in Bwera, a Ugandan city on the banks of the Rubirihiya river that separates the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, east of the Beni region.

Ugandans and Congolese sell from the same stalls. It is hard to distinguish them because they all discuss products and prices in "Kinande," their shared mother tongue. They aren't that different, really. Transactions are carried out in shillings on the Ugandan side, and in francs on the Congolese one. The same merchants do their market rounds on both sides of the border.

Truck drivers with bananas and palm oil from the Congo cross the border and unload their merchandise in Uganda, but on the other side of the border, they show Ugandan ID papers. The same goes for the Ugandan drivers who enter the Congo through Kasindi. When they go through customs loaded with beer, bags of grey cement, corn starch and other products, they pull out Congolese ID, which exempt them from certain taxes.

"I can't tell the difference between a Ugandan and a Congolese when I arrive at the barrier," says an embarrassed agent from Kinshasa who was recently assigned to this border post. 

Tax exemptions

Many Ugandans took advantage of last November's elections to acquire a voting card, which serves as a Congolese ID card. For their part, some Congolese also took advantage of the February 2011 presidential elections in Uganda to obtain Ugandan papers.

Patrick Siku, a political scientist from Beni, says that during the last elections, the Congolese Nande people and their Bakonzo brothers in Uganda helped each other out to cross the border and vote for their brethren candidates.

These cross-border populations end up with two pieces of identification that they use depending on the circumstances. According to the Congolese code of commerce, native citizens who export bananas, palm oil or rice and manioc flour are only subjected to paying exit fees and a hygiene tax at customs. They are exempted from fees for the commerce registry, the technical sheet or the commerce registration number, which are mandatory for foreigners, and are extremely expensive. Foreigners also have to renew their residence card with authorities every three months. 

Advantages for all 

The villages of Kalimio, Thako, Kizumbura, Kabarole and Kamirongo south of the Rwenzori sector are almost entirely inhabited by Ugandans who are attracted to the fertile Congolese lands and have family in the DRC.

Marcelline Kangusu, a Ugandan farmer who lives in the DRC, plants bananas, peanuts and oil palms that are sold in both countries. "We have to have two cards to live and travel without any problems."

Congolese do the same. Not only are Ugandan cities equipped with electricity and running water, they also have cheaper rent - the polar opposite of the DRC. Congolese from border villages and cities therefore come to live there, with their Ugandan ID cards.

"For my two bedroom apartment, I pay 48,000 shillings ($20) per month," says K. J., a Congolese who works in a snack bar in the Ugandan city of Kasese. "All I need to live in peace is my Ugandan ID card. There is no other form of control."