A shortage of the Covid-19 testing reagent at the Malaba and Busia borders has affected movement of goods between Kenya and Uganda, with lorry traffic stretching more than 30 kilometres from the crossing point as drivers await testing.
The backlog of trucks headed to the Busia border starts at Mundika town, 15 kilometres away, while the congestion at the Malaba border post is exceeding 30 kilometres, according to the East African Business Council (EABC).
The regional business lobby urged East African Community member states to restock the reagents quickly to avoid further delays in clearance.
EABC and the Ministry of EAC also asked countries to embrace the electronic Covid-19 certificates that are issued on the digital platform that was established recently to minimize delays occasioned by the demand for a second testing.
“It is critical for transporters in the region to embrace the recently launched Regional Electronic Cargo and Driver Tracking System to improve the truck out-turn and allow partner states to electronically share truck drivers’ test results, minimizing need for multiple Covid-19 tests in a single trip,” said Peter Mathuki, chief executive EABC.
Uganda requires truck drivers from neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania to take coronavirus tests before they are allowed to enter. Tests are also being carried out on the Tanzania-Kenya border. But delays in returning results has forced truckers to wait for up seven days, said Jackson Katende, spokesman of the Ugandan cargo transport industry body.
Paralysis at the Uganda-Kenya border had more than doubled the time for goods to move from Mombasa to the Ugandan capital Kampala and raised costs by up to 40 percent.
The delay has seen more than 2,400 trucks destined to Uganda yet to be cleared, a move that has disrupted cross border trade with serious ramification on the economy of both countries.
According to EABC, most Ugandan truck drivers are travelling without Covid-19 certificates with plans of being tested at the borders, thus the increase in demand of reagents leading to delays in testing.
The bottleneck threatens trade between the two countries, which is rebounding with Kenya’s exports to Uganda standing at $88 million as at August, a jump from $53.9 million in the same period last year.
However, a team from the Kenya Ministry of East African Community, East African Business Council (EABC), TradeMark East Africa, European Union, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on Monday and Tuesday made a fact-finding tour at Busia and Malaba border points to assess the situation.
The team, led by the Kenyan principal secretary for the Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development, Dr Devit Desai, toured other border towns and held meetings with customs officials and other stakeholders.
Desai also met officials at the Isebania and Namanga border points on afflatoxin surveillance, testing and issuance of COVID-19 free certificates and challenges faced by small-scale crossborder traders.
Desai said the huge traffic pile-up was due to shortage of reagents, but noted that the Kenyan government has since obtained adequate supplies.
Desai said as an immediate intervention, they decided to develop an application with the European Union and TradeMark East Africa to accredit testing laboratories to place certification online, which can be downloaded by 50,000 drivers on their phones.
He added that they are also establishing another testing laboratory with a trailer parking yard at Eldoret to handle truck drivers, intensify sensitization, besides finding solutions at Malaba border, which needs dedicated equipment in order to facilitate cross-border trade.
Uganda exports to Kenya stood at $46.9 million as at August 2020 a slight decline from $48.3 million recorded last year according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics
Kenya’s key imports from Uganda include milk and cream, tobacco, cane electrical energy and plywood among other goods. On the other hand, Uganda’s imports from Kenya include palm oil and its fractions, iron or non-alloy steel, petroleum oils and salt among other goods.
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