Kenya’s Northern Corridor Transit Patrol Unit (NCTPU) has intensified snap checks and patrol operations along the Webuye-Malaba Highway to curb congestion, speeding and reckless driving that cause accidents, following the huge traffic snarl-up in the highway.
Thousands of truck drivers had late last month gone on strike to protest the Ksh3600 ($31.70) fee charged by the Ugandan government for mandatory covid-19 testing at the Malaba border.
The protests resulted in traffic snarl-up that stretched about 120 kilometers and is yet to clear even after the fee was removed.
The Northern Corridor Transit Patrol Unit Police Commander Mr Joshua Nyasimi on Thursday told the Daily Nation that his officers have since been looking into the safety situation of the trucks ferrying goods to neighbouring countries including Uganda, South Sudan, DRC, Rwanda and Burundi that are stuck in the snarl-up.
“My officers, who have been in action on the highway 24 hours a day, are also looking into the safety of the drivers, their goods and other challenges they have been facing in the jam.
“For the past two weeks, my officers have had a difficult time trying to regulate and control the huge traffic jam caused by the cargo trucks,” he added.
He said that the traffic snarl-up had never been witnessed on the highway before.
Truck drivers attacked
Mr Nyasimi also reported incidents where truck drivers attacked each other. He said that truck drivers who were overlapping or overtaking were badly beaten and some had been hospitalised.
He said that in a recent incident that happened in Bukembe area in Bungoma County, a truck driver who had overlapped was beaten by others and is fighting for his life in a hospital.
Mr Nyasimi urged the truck drivers to resist any temptations to take the course of law into their hands, and instead report any cases of indiscipline by their colleagues to the police, who were available for them throughout.
"We all understand that the traffic jam has been intense and caused a major inconvenience across the counties of Busia, Bungoma and Kakakmega. However, that is getting resolved as clearance officials and health officials at the border have been deployed,” he said.
The police boss asked the truckers to use common sense to avoid congestion in the highway that is two way traffic road.
Mr Nyasimi, however, revealed that there were some trucks that were allowed right of way, based on the nature of goods they were ferrying.
"We have trucks ferrying poisonous substances, which we are assigning because we do not want them to stay long in the traffic jam as they pose a health hazard to locals. The trucks ferrying goods for the United Nations like relief food, and such as are carrying lever containers are getting escorted,” he said.
"We are asking those drivers in the que to be patient as we shall provide them security and ensure they also move on with their journey smoothly," he said.
Mr Nyasimi asked the drivers to be patient as the matter is being addressed after intervention by East African Community officials, and will be solved in a few days’ time, adding that it's the truck drivers themselves who began the protests.
He also urged the leaders of the truckers associations and long distance transport associations not to incite other truckers to attack each other.
He said that his officers are liaising with the traffic officers who assist to ensure the trucks do not interfere with businesses of those operating along the roads, and in entrance sections.
He said that several trucks have also been involved in accidents.
"We have a few trucks that caused accidents and there are cranes to assist in pulling them. Besides, the trucks that develop mechanical issues are repaired," he said.
Mr Daniel Manzo, a truck driver ferrying vehicles from Mombasa port to Burundi, said that he had been making huge losses since the traffic snarl-up began about three weeks ago.
"My company has also been making huge loses for taking too long on the road. On normal days, I take about ten days from Mombasa to Burundi and back, but now the same journey is taking me close to fourteen days," he said.
Mr Manzo, who has been a truck driver for the past eleven years, said that because of the heavy traffic jam, spends a lot of time on the road and ends up using up all his allowance on the road.
"In the company that I work for, truck drivers are strictly bound by a set of rules governing how long we can work during the day as well as how many of those working hours can be spent behind the wheel, and the traffic snarl-up has complicated things," he said.
He said that they are required to work for 70 hours per week, 14 hours per day working, no more than 11 hours per day driving and the traffic jam had messed up the arrangement.
"These are tight regulations and the penalties for failing to comply can be stiff and could land one into problems," he said.
Mr Manzo said that a massive traffic jam like the one being witnessed usually cost a driver his money.
"The longer it takes for a driver to get a load to its destination due to the traffic jam, the less time he has remaining on the week to run another trip," he said.
"Personally, I usually make about 12,000 to 15000 per trip, so too many slowdowns due to snarl-up cost me a lot of money for missing out on that extra run," he said.
He said that other ways in which the slowdown on the queue costs him money include a penalty (assessed by the receiver) for being late with a load.
He said that even the extra fuel consumed while on the traffic jam costs the company a lot of money.
The driver said that time management is so important to a trucker.