• Migori has been cited as one of the weakest links in the fight against the contagion.
• Its surge in infection is imputed to cross-border movement of people and goods, as in Tanzania, it has been business as usual since the outbreak of the virus.
Only God can stop the spread of the coronavirus.
This is the comment made by boda boda riders operating on dusty cross-border routes between Kenya and Tanzania in Kopanga, Migori county.
“It is only God who will control corona. As far as we are concerned, the virus doesn’t exist here and we pray for the border to remain closed to help us make a killing,” Albert Abala told the Star.
The border was closed following fears of Covid-19 spread but riders still exploit 'panya' routes to sneak people in or out of the country. They act in blatant disregard for the directives issued by the national and county governments.
Migori has been cited as one of the weakest links in the fight against the contagion. Its surge in infection is imputed to cross-border movement of people and goods, as in Tanzania, it has been business as usual since the outbreak of the virus.
The riders liaise with their counterparts from the neighbouring country to help passengers reach their destinations.
Albert Mwita, a Kenyan student taking a nursing course at Sengerema Nursing School in Tanzania, said while Kenya colleges are waiting to open in January, across the border they were back in school on May 1.
“When the border was closed, we crossed over on boda boda. We have been making trips to and fro as students in colleges, secondary and even primary,” Mwita said.
For Tobias Range, the proprietor of Momokoro Academy and former Kehancha mayor, riders have filled the void left by vehicles since the border was closed.
"We buy rice and vegetables from Tanzania while they buy cattle, electronics and hawk in Kenya. People have resorted to using boda boda riders even as police have resorted to harassment and extortion,” Range said.
He termed it cheaper to have a rider evade police and health official check-up points than getting tested at the border.
When Alice Atieno lost her eldest son in Geita town in Mwanza area, Tanzania, her family hired riders to help cross over via Muhuru Bay centre.
“It was a long chain of three riders who picked me in Kenya, I was dropped off on the outskirts of Kirongwe village in Tanzania. Two other Tanzania riders escorted me all the way to Shirati town," she said.
Those who make it across the border say Kenya and Tanzania are currently worlds apart when it comes to controlling Covid-19. In Kenya, restrictions abound, including social distancing, curfews, face masking and use of thermal guns to take body temperatures. Tanzania has none.
“I had to dispose of my face mask immediately I crossed over to Tanzania, as Kenyans are known by having a face mask and risk arrest. Public service vehicles were jammed and the funeral was full of people,” Atieno said.
Campaigns for the upcoming general election in Tanzania are in the homestretch and anti-Covid-19 measures have been put on the back burner. However, tensions between Kenya and Tanzania officials have escalated over the closure, with boats, motorbikes, people and trucks seized across the border.
“We still have a huge number of Tanzanian hawkers in Migori town. They come and freely mingle with us. We also have relatives across the border. It is easier to move across, making Migori a hotspot,” said Samuel Migore, the Migori Small Traders Association chair.
Migori Governor Okoth Obado said corruption perpetrated by the police, lack of equipment for border control, negligence and Kisumu being the closest testing centre are some of the hurdles that make it difficult to control the border.
Speaking a week ago when he received personal protective equipment donated by Equity Bank, Obado said proximity with Tanzania has seen Migori rise to top 10 in the ranking of counties by infection numbers.
“The porous borders remain a big threat. We want the police not to relent, and instead to completely prevent unprecedented movement of people as we currently see,” Obado said.
Samples taken from the region have to be transported to Kisumu, hence test results take time to be delivered, a situation that discourages traders who seek to timely ferry their goods.
“We need a testing centre as we are high risk with constant streaming from Tanzania. The centre will help the South Nyanza region and parts of Narok county to curb the virus,” Obado said.
He said Migori needs additional utility vehicles to man border posts for testing and special ambulances for proper management of referrals.
Edited by F'Orieny