Coronavirus takes its toll on EAC’s one-stop border posts

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 00:00 |
Trucks line up at Namanga one-stop border point (OSBP) as they await clearance to enter Tanzania. Due to stringent coronavirus testing measures, truckers are waiting for up to four days to cross OSBPs. Photo/PD/Christine Musa

Introduced to lessen days and facilitate inter-regional and international transport and road transit, the one-stop border points (OSBPs) are reeling under the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19).

When exiting one country and entering another, OSBPs combine two stops into one thus fast-tracking movement of people and improving business environment in the East African Community (EAC).

However, Covid 19 has virtually crippled operations of the multi-million-shilling facilities with EAC member states witnessing unprecedented traffic jams of heavy- duty trucks.

A senior Regional Kenya Revenue Authority officer said there were more than 1,200 cargo trucks stuck in Busia and Malaba alone and continues piling up in the standoff.

 “They are all loaded with a wide range of multi-million-shillings cargo destined for markets in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but they are now stuck in the endless jam,” he told Business Hub.

Stringent protocols

The official, who requested to remain anonymous, attributed the jam to number of drivers protesting some protocols involved in undergoing the mandatory Covid-19 checks before exiting. 

Drivers, he added, are protesting the way they are being handled, particularly the requirement that they be tested in Kenya on exiting and also in Uganda before proceeding to their destinations.

The official said when the government introduced a raft of measures to control the spread of the disease, the first to be hit were the long-distance cross-country Public Service Vehicle (PSV) drivers.

Lake Region Counties Economic bloc’s Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) branch Spokesman Hernam Kasili said it has since emerged that many of the drivers were infected by the coronavirus and spreading it within and outside the country.

He said this has forced the alarmed regional governments to enforce strict testing of truck drivers at the entry and exit points where most of the OSBPs are found.

The construction of the OSBPs were financed mostly by the World Bank and commissioned jointly by the heads of state President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni at Busia and Malaba on the Kenya – Uganda border.

President Kenyatta and his Tanzanian counterpart John Magufuli commissioned those at Namanga, Loitokitok, Taveta-Holili, Lunga Lunga, and Isebania on the border of the two countries.

Kasili said even before their construction to facilitate faster movement of cargo and reduce costs, these points hardly experienced the extremely long traffic jams they are currently experiencing.

The jam, he added, stretches as long as more than 25 kilometres from the border point in Busia town outwards on the Busia – Kisumu highway.

He said the situation at Malaba border point is even worse with trucks stuck in the jams stretching nearly 40 kilometres from that town on the Malaba – Eldoret highway where the truckers are forced to wait for as many as 10 or more days before they get their turn to be tested or cleared to cross to Uganda.

The KNCCI regional boss said that at the same time they also have to wait for the results before being allowed to cross the border if they are found negative, but those positive are immediately quarantined at alternative drivers who are Covid- 19 negative have to be sent in by their companies’ head offices to take over and proceed – thus worsening the delays.

The Uganda government had earlier demanded that the Kenyan drivers surrender the cargo trucks at these points to Ugandan drivers to take over and navigate them to their destinations because of coronavirus infections but the truckers rejected that demand.

On the Tanzanian side, it is even worse since the government has not put in place stringent measures to control the spread of the disease compared to those executed by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda governments, hence the higher risk of exporting the coronavirus to neighbouring countries.

A Clearing and Forwarding agent Suleiman Musa at Namanga said the testing of the truckers at these border points has since seen the Kenya government send back to Tanzania scores of drivers found positive of the disease just like Uganda has done the same with scores of Kenyan truckers found positive of the disease.

Indeed it was Uganda which was first to discover that scores of the truckers were coronavirus positive and in the process spreading it across the borders, worse still at the many truckers’ trading centres or towns scattered at the long highways.

“To show how serious the situation is, Kenya government has already acquired from Germany two mobile laboratories for processing coronavirus samples with one already ear marked for the Namanga border point with Tanzania,” said Suleiman.

High risk individuals

Ironically at the emergence of the dreaded HIV/Aids disease, the truckers were also classed among the high risk individuals in spreading the disease, especially in the border towns and the truckers along the highways where they regularly stop to rest and refresh themselves.

The risk is no better since the truckers not only closely interact with traders, workers and patrons in particularly bars, restaurants, lodgings and other entertainment joints that crowd these places but also sex workers who interact with others.

The delays, according to the truckers, can take as long as five to 10 days, even two weeks necessitating extra expenses as they wait for clearance at the OSBSPs not to mention those who are found positive and put under mandatory quarantine which means replacements.

Hussein Omar of Logistics International said: “It is a nightmare for all of us stuck in this jam here at Busia.

We do not know when we shall be cleared and are slowly but surely running out of cash that is supposed to sustain us on the long journey to our destinations to deliver these goods and get back for more.”

He said though huge quantities of the cargo are imported products through the Port of Mombasa, a lot more are imported from the Kenyan industries based especially in Nairobi and Mombasa, meaning the local economy is not being spared.

Busia border post is known for handling most of the petroleum products destined for the Ugandan, Rwanda, the Eastern DRC and South Sudan.

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