Covid-19 threatens Kenya-Tanzania relations

Kenya committed to easing tension between the two countries diplomatically

In Summary
  • Last Saturday, President Kenyatta closed the borders with Tanzania and Somalia to curb the increase of “imported” Covid-19 cases.
  • Some Tanzanian officials on Monday said goods from their northern neighbour will be offloaded at the border.
A file photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulating Tanzania President John Magufuli shortly after Magufuli's inauguration at State House, Dar es Salaam. /PSCU
A file photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulating Tanzania President John Magufuli shortly after Magufuli's inauguration at State House, Dar es Salaam. /PSCU


Covid-19 is threatening to strain relations between Tanzania and Kenya as each country enforces containment measures against the disease.

Some Tanzanian officials have announced they will not allow trucks ferrying cargo from Kenya into their country.


This followed President Uhuru Kenyatta's closure of borders with Tanzania and Somalia last Saturday to curb the increase of “imported” Covid-19 cases.

President Kenyatta, however, exempted cargo trucks but their drivers must take compulsory Covid-19 tests at the border posts with only those declared negative allowed entry.

On Monday, the Tanzanian officials said that no vehicle from Kenya will be allowed to enter their country. They said goods from the northern neighbour will be offloaded at the border for collection by their respective owners.

Tanga Regional Commissioner Martine Shigella on May 18 said Kenyan cargo trucks would not be allowed into Tanzania.

“We will not allow Kenyans trucks to come with coronavirus into Tanzania. All the times they come here, the bring corona with them,” Shigella said while urging locals not to buy Kenyan goods.

East African Community and Regional Development Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohammed said Tanzania risked losing a great deal if cargo from Kenya is denied entry.

“We are playing it calm and have no interest in escalating the matter. Kenya is allowing trucks from Tanzania to enter into the country but the drivers must be tested and declared negative,” he said.


The CS said Kenya will not respond to reckless statements by some Tanzanian regional commissioners.

He said Kenya is working on easing the tension through diplomatic channels. “We don’t want to react to DCs and PCs who are telling people Kenyans are going there with corona.” 

Mohammed, who appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on National Cohesion, Equal Opportunity, and Regional Integration, said the movement of goods is encouraged within the EAC countries to grow regional economies. Trade within EAC is estimated at Sh200 billion.

“The latest position is that drivers must be tested in the home countries and issued with a certificate that lasts for two weeks. The problem is that Tanzania is not testing their drivers and we have to do it ourselves, making the movement slower than expected,” the CS explained.

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau downplayed reports of a diplomatic row between Tanzania and Kenya.

“We have simply exercised prudence along our border and within the country and between our counties,” he said.

Kamau said he was not aware that Kenyan dairy firm Brookside had been slapped with huge tax arrears bill by Tanzania.

“I suggest you talk to Brookside. They may be in a better position to give you that information,” he said.

Mohammed said border points across EAC, Somalia and Ethiopia have been closed for movement of people but cargo is allowed.

“Cargo should never be interfered with. Only Kenyan citizens or permanent residents can be allowed in. Those allowed in will then be placed on quarantine,” he clarified.

Tanzania has not released reports on the Covid-19 situation in the country for more than two weeks. There are fears that the number could have risen significantly.

President John Magufuli is reported to have snubbed meetings and calls from regional heads of state to chat the way forward for the EAC.

Mumo Nzau, a governance and national security strategist, said it was important for Kenyan and Tanzanian officials to be moderate and modest when commenting on issues concerning the border.

“You do not jeopardise healthy relations with regional partners. Officials should keep in mind that the world is in difficult times,” he said, noting that government officials should not put words into the mouths of their respective heads of state.

“The heads of state have not pointed fingers at each other. People should go with what the heads of state want. Uhuru said the decisions are painful. Magufuli also said the same,” Nzau said.

According to him, Magufuli’s absence from last week's virtual meeting of EAC heads of state should not be construed to mean he does not want to cooperate in fighting the pandemic.


- mwaniki fm