Trade between East African Community partner states is already reeling under the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, marked by closed borders and a slowdown in cross-border trade.
Although Kenya and Tanzania have not closed their borders to contain the spread of the coronavirus, business at their common Namanga border point has almost grind to a halt as both countries restrict movement of vehicles and people.
A spot check at the border town showed that few Kenyan cargo trucks were being allowed entry into Tanzania, while all trucks from Tanzania importing goods into Kenya are supposed to be escorted by Kenyan police from the border point to their destination and then back. Kenya has deployed more than 40 armed police officers and police vehicles for the task.
Few passenger vehicles are allowed entry into Tanzania, with truck drivers ferrying goods to the country have to be cleared by medical officers first. Bus companies have opted to transporting goods to mitigate losses.
This is the scenario hardly one week after Kenya’s Principal Secretary for East Africa Community Affairs Kevit Desai raised a red flag over the loss of an estimated Ksh38 billion ($380 million) loss in one week in bilateral trade in the wake of Covid-19. Mr Desai was at the Namanga One-Stop-Border-Post on a fact finding mission.
The stringent measures are supposed to reassure business people that both countries are open for business and all efforts are being made to remove health risks associated with the Covid-19 in the two countries.
However, despite all these measures, Namanga is a ghost town. A local trader, Alice Nana, said they can hardly make a sale in a day.
“The number of visitors using Namanga border keeps reducing affecting our business. Both Kenya and Tanzania authorities have restricted movements to avert the virus spread,’’ she said.
In the new regulations, trucks are to transit in a cluster with a 20 kilometre stop over. This is meant to closely monitor the movement of every vehicle and that the crew is maintained at two.
No vehicle is supposed to deviate from the initial prescribed route and must be recorded back at the Namanga One-Stop-Border Point.
In the past two days, Namanga Road has had heavy truck traffic enroute to Nairobi under police escort. Traders and drivers however claim that the new regulations are tedious and time consuming although necessary in checking the spread of the coronavirus.
“We must trade but cautiously,’’ said Jamil Amila, a Tanzania trader at Isinya town. This means trucks will be forced to take more than five days from the border crossing to Nairobi, affecting traders ferrying perishable goods.
—By Stanley Ngotho and Barnabas Bii