Coronavirus changes habits at porous Holili-Taveta border

Thursday, May 14th, 2020 00:00 |
The One-Stop-Border Post at Kenya-Tanzania border in Taveta where people are being screened. Photo/COURTESY

Isam Latoti

Smuggling of sugar and charcoal across the Kenya-Tanzania border at Taveta sub-county is an old vice.  

This illegal activity, a perennial headache for security agencies, has been going on for as long as the porous border has existed. 

On their part, the border communities have regarded such activities as a harmless way of making quick money. 

That was until Covid-19 struck. Suddenly, smuggling is no longer fashionable. Instead, it is now a matter of life and death.

 Communities in the border villages that used to abet the vice by looking the other way are now the vanguard to block the activities and promptly report such cases to authorities for action.

Barbabas Maimbo, a Taveta-based opinion leader, says the communities in border region have become extremely jittery about possibility of contracting coronavirus from interactions between Tanzanians and Kenyans. 

He adds that Tanzania’s casual attitude towards containment of the virus has scared the border county.

“We are not taking any chances. While the government closed the official route, the citizens are manning the other routes in the villages,” he said.

The government’s official route is the One-Stop-Border while the ‘other routes’ refers to the illegal crossing that dot the porous border.

Despite such efforts, a recent reported acute shortage of sugar in Tanzania is turning out to be a nightmare for the border villages as unscrupulous traders are using youths as mules to ferry bags of sugars to traders in Tanzania. 

Reports say smugglers are making a kill from the trade with a bag giving a profit of over Sh700.

The allure of such irresistible profit margins from the illegal trade is drawing youths to engage in such risky activities.

Hussein Jureji, a resident of Kitobo, said the border region remained at tenterhooks with fears persisting of cross-border covid-19 infection. 

He stated that though smuggling has significantly reduced after community members started reporting the vice to authorities, there remained a serious threat from sporadic crossings that are done in secrecy.

“Since the community started proactively reporting those who are crossing, the cases have reduced but the huge profit margins from the trade are too tempting for the jobless youth,” he said.

The worst hit areas by this vice are madarasani, Lotima and Chumvini villages.

The smuggling network involves traders, local boda boda riders and some rogue elements in security agencies who are allegedly aiding the trade by failing to taking prompt action. 

Sources claim that in some cases, lorries are driven from sugar depots and wholesale stores in Taveta town to remote villages along the border. 

After off-loading, bodaboda riders are then hired to ferry the bags across the border.

“Boda boda carry a minimum of three bags and rush them to Tanzania and come back even before the police can respond,” said the source.

Other times, the riders collect sugar from Taveta town to avoid drawing attention to trucks.

Despite such challenges, there has been some level of success in the war against smuggling. 

Already, amongst the over 60 people currently in Taveta quarantine facilities are traders who were arrested after crossing into Tanzania and back to Kenya.

County Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha has warned that riders caught smuggling sugar and other commodities to Tanzania will be quarantined and their motorbikes impounded until coronavirus is contained.

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