Kenya and Uganda are looking to open new border points and expand roads to ease congestion at crossing points and reduce traffic snarl-ups on major highways.
East African Affairs ministers Rebecca Kadaga of Uganda and Peninah Malonza of Kenya signed a memorandum to undertake the construction of dual-carriage roads along the Northern Corridor route at Busia and Malaba borders.
Two more crossing points in Mulwanda in Lumino sub-county and Buteba in Buteba sub-county in Busia were also proposed to divert traffic from Malaba and Busia, where a truck that is expected to be cleared within 15 minutes ends up waiting in the line for more than six hours.
The two governments are under constant pressure by traders and transporters to find solutions to the delays at the border points.
“We need more scanners at the Malaba and Busia border posts,” Denis Odhiambo, a Kenyan fuel truck driver told The EastAfrican in Kampala.
Busia and Malaba are the busiest crossing points for transit trucks to DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi. The two border posts are estimated to be clearing 3,000 trucks daily.
The challenge truckers face is that only two scanners — one on either side — are operational, causing huge traffic hold-ups and resulting in a gridlock from Malaba going all the way to Kanduyi, on the Kenyan side.
The problem is exacerbated when the scanners break down, forcing them to park by the roadside, vehicles snaking for several kilometres along both sides of the common border.
When half the road is blocked, passenger cars, buses and boda boda are forced to share one side, further causing a traffic snarl-up.
Abel Kagumire, the Commissioner for Customs at Uganda Revenue Authority blames the truck drivers for causing congestion at Malaba after they abandoned using the Lwakhakha border point specifically built to handle Kenya-bound empty trucks.
When Customs diverted the trucks, drivers protested as the route, which is more than 100km longer, thereby increasing their operating costs.
“Some drivers use the Lwakhakha route, while others insist on using Malaba,” Kagumire told The East African, explaining that this adds pressure to the roads at the borders.
The planned new border post in Lumino is a cheaper alternative to constructing dual roads through Busia town in Kenya which will require pulling down the shops line up the old highway.
While Kagumire says Uganda is ready to start the construction of the new border post, Kenya has not yet gazetted the exit and entry point.
“We are waiting for Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to officially establish the border post on their side before we start construction,” said Kagumire.
The decision came after a meeting to discuss infrastructure development and East African Community integration at Busia One Stop Border Post on November 11, 2023.
East Africa community cabinet secretary Ms Peninnah Malonza said governments of both countries will put their resources together and make sure that modern scanning machines are obtained describing the ones in use as substandard for quick clearing of goods.
“Modern machines are needed to reduce long truck queues as a result of old scanning equipment,” she said, adding that more border points should be opened to allow easy movement of goods and services.
“Mulwanda border point was gazetted by former Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki’s government, but we are waiting for Uganda to open their sides before we can operationalise crossing,” she said.
On her part, Kadaga said she had directed URA officers to gazette the two border points of Mulwanda and Buteba hoping that will ease movement of goods and services across the two counties.
“I have also been informed that there are more than 50 illegal routes across the two countries. We shall agree on how many of the 50 we can formalise without subjected our people to longer distances in search of a formal route to and out of Uganda.”
Kampala jam affects route
In Uganda, the snarl-ups are not limited to border areas alone, but also when exiting and entering Kampala for a radius of 25kms with truck drivers reporting that they spend on average 6 hours from Mukono, 20km east of Kampala to the city centre.
Without traffic congestion, driving on this stretch takes less than 30 minutes. “When the truck leaves Malaba at 9am, it reaches Kampala at 7pm. This is almost 11 hours later instead of the average three hours,” Odiambo explained.
A 2017 World Bank study indicated that traffic jams were costing Uganda more than $800m in lost gross domestic product with a daily loss of 24,000 person-hours in Kampala alone.
The delay affects turnaround times of the trucks, Jemba Kanakulya Mulondo, a board member Kampala City Traders Association and players in logistics industry explained.
According to Shippers Council of Easter Africa Logistics Performance Survey, transport costs stand at $1.8 per km per container, against world’s best practices of $1 per kilometre, per container.