Relief for transporters, traders as Uganda eases border rule

It has suspended the 72-hour retesting rule.

In Summary

•The neighouring country has also suspended the $30 dollar charges on tests.

•Ministers from EAC states to meet on Friday to assess progress on clearing of backlog.

A queue of long distance trucks at the Kocholya bridge on January 6, 2022.
LONG QUEUE: A queue of long distance trucks at the Kocholya bridge on January 6, 2022.

Kenya hopes an agreement with Uganda will help a pile-up at the Malaba border, which had caused tension in the past one week.

Uganda had reduced the Covid-19 certificate validity to 72 hours (three days), as opposed to the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS) being used by other member states, which allows Covid-19 testing after 14 days.

According to Uganda, the decision was to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, which has a shorter incubation period.

It was also charging $30 (Sh3,399) per test, leading to protest by drivers transporting cargo between Mombasa and the hinterland, mainly Kampala, which accounts for 83 per cent of transit goods through the Kenyan port.

The charge goes against EAC agreement where Kenya and Rwanda have been testing drivers for free after EAC Health Ministries agreed to share the cost in mid-2021.

By Monday, traffic on the Kenyan side of the border had built as far as 40 kilometres, according to the Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (KIFWA).

Transporters have argued that the 72 hours lapse while they are still on transit between Mombasa and Malaba, hence not practical. They were also opposed to the charges on tests.

The pile up and slow cross-border movement saw truck turn-around time between Mombasa and Kampala increase to more than 10 days from an average three to four days, with reduced evacuation threatening to choke the Port of Mombasa.

The delays has also affected industries in Uganda importing raw materials, with businesses dealing with imports affected.

An inter-ministerial meeting involving Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda, chaired by Kenya’s East African Community and Regional Development CS Adan Mohamed on Monday, however saw the neighbouring country ease its stand.

The virtual meeting involved transport, health, EAC ministers and transport and logistics stakeholders.

“We have agreed that Uganda relaxes these new rules they had put in place with a view of clearing the backlog as a priority. They have waived the 72 hours requirement and will also do rapid tests with a limit time of 10 minutes for free,” CS Mohamed told the Star on telephone.

The move, he said, will help clear the pile up at the border and ease movement noting the pile up was threatening regional trade.

The ministers will be meeting on Friday to assess the progress, even as it remains unclear if Uganda’s will resume to its directives after the border is cleared.

CS Mohamed: “ We expect vehicles to move but without 14 days, it is not going to be practical, but we have to respect each country’s decision. The challenge is you try to fix one thing, it ends up having an impact somewhere else.”

There are more than 3,000 trucks between Malaba, Kampala and Sudan yet to make return trips which has exposed agents to demurrage charges by waiting ships.

This is a charge payable to the owner of a chartered ship on failure to load or discharge the ship within the time agreed.

“Clearing agents are going to be left with a bill to pay. Transporters who have bank loans also fail to break even as the number of trips reduces. Failure to service their loans exposes the to repossession,” Kifwa national chairman Roy Mwanthi said.

Uganda remains Kenya’s top export market.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics latest data, the value of exports in 10-months to October last year was Sh59.9 billion.