Kenya, Uganda urged to dialogue, address Covid tests stalemate

Uganda is charging truck drivers $65 per test

In Summary

•Kenyan transporters has warned the move will increase the cost of transport and prices of goods.

•Has urged Kenyan authorities to improve testing capacity at major towns and borders.

An aerial photo of traffic at the Kenya-Uganda border town of Malaba/
An aerial photo of traffic at the Kenya-Uganda border town of Malaba/

The Kenya and Ugandan authorities have been urged to address the Covid-19 test charges on truck drivers that took effect this week, which could increase the cost of doing business.

Uganda has introduced a $65(Sh7,046) charge per test for long-distance truck drivers at the different points of entry at its borders, effective September 1.

This is a reverse from an earlier regional agreement that truck drivers, considered to be part of essential service providers, be tested for free.

They (drivers) are critical in movement of goods across the borders, supporting continuity in trade , industrial stability and investments, a time when regional economies are struggling with effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with the Star, the Kenya Transporters Association(KTA), which has warned of an increase in the cost of transport and goods, said the issue needs to be addressed before it hits importers, exporters and businesses in the region.

“We dont welcome any additional costs on trade at this time. The two governments should sit down and agree on a way forward. They should facilitate smooth movement of good and trade without making it costly,” KTA Chief Operating Officer Mercy Ireri said.

Transporters had earlier this week warned they will pass any additional costs to traders, who traditionally recover by increasing the costs of goods which affects consumers.

“We would like a business environment that is conducive, cost effective and efficient,” Ireri said.

Uganda is said to have made a u-turn after Kenya failed to efficiently implement the testing programme, which has seen most drivers prefer being tested by Ugandan authorities.

This has overwhelmed its facilities, Geoffrey Sseremba from the health ministry said in a communique.

According to Sseremba, the Ugandan health ministry continues to receive requests from organisations to have their staff-tested, which it finds difficult to sustain due to the inadequate in-country stock of the test kits, resource constraints and the high cost of Covid-19 testing.

The charges, hence “is a cost-recovery mechanism that will enable the ministry of health to acquire more test kits for continued access to testing services in the country.

Those required to pay are truck drivers at the different points of entry, individuals seeking to know their Covid-19 status, organisations (both government and private ) that wish to test their staff for purpose of prevention, Ugandans returning from abroad and visitors.

KTA has since urged Kenya that apart from dialogue with Uganda to iron out testing issues, it should improve services at all testing centres, mainly those populated with truck drivers activities.

These include Mombasa, Kisumu , Eldoret and all major border points.

“These centers should remain operational on a 24 hours-seven days a week basis,” Ireri said.

This, she says will address delays where in Kenya, drivers are said to take up to eight days to get results at some centres, which affects their travel schedules and movement of cargo.

Testing and results in Uganda are taking eight to 12 hours, transporters say, making it more reliable and preferred by truck drivers who are keen to ensure shorter truck turn-around.

“It has become difficult to plan movement depending on Kenya. The problem will not end until the ministry of health improves services,” she said.

The Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (KIFWA) this week said the charges add up to an already costly business environment, occasioned by border delays which have increased truck turn around time.

“Drivers are already taking more days to do a turn around trip which comes with increased costs on the road to cover their allowances, cargo security and other expenses,” Kifwa national chairman Roy  Mwanthi said in a telephone interview. 

Kenyan trucks and drivers account for 87 per cent of transit movement between Mombasa and the hinterland, with Uganda being the leading transit destination, accounting for 83.2 per cent of transit cargo through the port of Mombasa.

South Sudan is second with a 9.9 per cent share while DR Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda account for 7.2 per cent, 3.2 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively.