Rwanda and Tanzania have resolved a fallout between long-distance truck drivers and authorities at the Rusumo Border Post.
In a statement on Friday, Rwanda said that delegations from both countries had reached a deal in a virtual bilateral meeting to ease the truck drivers impasse.
“The United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Rwanda agreed to remove the proposed swapping of drivers at Rusumo border with immediate effect,” Rwanda said.
Kigali added that goods entering Rwanda will be “offloaded or transhipped at entry point, except for trucks carrying perishable goods and petroleum products destined to Rwanda.”
They also agreed that to prevent further spread of Covid-19, truck drivers will have to undergo mandatory testing at starting point and facilitated by Tanzania.
More than 1,000 trucks destined for Rwanda are currently stuck at the Tanzanian border town of Benako following the strike by Tanzanian truck drivers who refused to comply with Kigali’s proposed relay system that would see them hand over their trucks to Rwandan drivers.
“We had a previous meeting where we were not able to conclude on two particular points: Swapping of drivers at Rusumo border and escorting trucks that carry perishable goods and fuel which cannot offload at Rusumo.,” said Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs ahead of the talks.
“Not reaching an agreement is not an option because we must ensure that goods continue to move but at the same time ensure that our people are safe from Covid-19,” said Dr Biruta.
The new measures will also apply to Kenyan truck drivers who have also suspended transporting cargo to Rwanda.
Rwanda put in place stringent measures after reporting a surge in new coronavirus cases traced to cross-border truck drivers and their assistants.
In order to curb this spread, Rwanda employed mandatory tests of truck drivers at its borders – mainly at its Rusumo Border with Tanzania.
It also mandated that goods at Rusumo be offloaded and reloaded on other trucks that are then transported by local drivers to mainland Rwanda.
The decision did not bode well with Tanzanian officials.
“Rwanda has introduced tough and unrealistic measures to the Industry which will disrupt the entire supply chain and undermine the efficiency, seamlessness and cost-effectiveness of cargo transportation in the Region,” Tanzanian Truck Owners Association said in a statement.
The association demanded that its drivers should be allowed to proceed with trips to their destinations if they tested negative for Covid-19.
It also demanded that those found to be Covid-19 positive should be replaced by their own chosen drivers to proceed with the journey instead of Rwandan drivers.
Bilateral ties between both countries have been strong since the inauguration of President John Pombe Magufuli in October 2015, but experts warn that Rwanda cannot afford another diplomatic spat with another neighbour after falling out with Burundi and Uganda.
Tanzania takes a portion of 21 percent of Rwanda’s total intra-EAC trade, while the majority of its re-exports to the region – including fuels, vehicles and fertilizers – go to Rwanda.
Rwanda’s imports to Tanzania increased slightly from a value of $1.3 million in 2017 to $1.4 million in 2018 while exports jumped from $68.7 million to $104 million in the same period, statistics by the National Institute of Statistics indicate.