- The agents were protesting the continued daytime ban on empty cargo trucks from crossing the border via Malaba.
- The restriction was slapped in January 2022 when then Transport CS James Macharia, his Ugandan counterpart Katumba Wamala and Ugandan’s State Minister for Trade Harriet Ntabazi toured Malab.
Clearing agents at the Malaba border have called off their strike.
The strike that began on Tuesday morning paralysed cargo transport at Kenya’s second busiest entry and exit point as the agents protested the continued daytime ban of empty cargo trucks from crossing the border via Malaba.
The ban they said was being implemented by Uganda.
Kenya International Freight Forwarders and Warehousing Association Malaba chapter chairman Kennedy Osiya told the Star on Wednesday the strike was called off after authorities agreed to review the time of passage of empty cargo containers at the border point.
Initially, the empties were only allowed to pass through Malaba between midnight and 7 am.
The time, Osiya said has been reviewed from midnight to 10 pm. This implies empty containers will be passing through the border point between 10 pm and 7 am.
From 7:01 am to 9:59 pm, the containers will be crossing the border at Lwakhakha.
“We have called off the strike because the agreed to review the time from midnight to 10 pm,” Osiya said on the phone.
“We will continue engaging until clearance of empty containers resumes fully, for 24 hours in Malaba.”
On Tuesday, the clearing agents downed their tools paralysing cross-border cargo transport.
The agents at a press conference said they were protesting the continued ban on empty cargo trucks from passing Malaba.
The restriction was slapped in January 2022 when then Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, his Ugandan counterpart Katumba Wamala and Ugandan’s State Minister for Trade Harriet Ntabazi toured Malaba.
The visit followed complaints of slow clearance of cargo, a development that caused a huge traffic snarl-up of trucks stretching for more than 70 kilometres into Kenya.
Osiya on Tuesday had said the ban had overstayed calling on authorities to lift it.
He said it was uneconomical for clearing agents to travel from Malaba to the Lwakhakha border to clear empty containers before returning to Malaba.
“The last time ministers from Kenya and Uganda were in Malaba we all agreed that we are decongesting Malaba by diverting the empty trucks to the Lwakhakha border and that was a temporary measure,” Osiya said at a press briefing at the Malaba One Stop Border Post.
“So far it is more than a year since we made that agreement. The empty trucks are going a long way because there are trucks that are just ending their journey here in Tororo. These trucks go a long way to Lwakhakha then turn back to Kenya. In terms of fuel and time, it is a waste of resources.”
On January 22, last year a meeting attended by Macharia, Wamala and Ntabazi agreed to suspend the clearing of empty cargo trucks in Malaba.
All empty containers were diverted to the Lwakhakha border as a measure to decongest Malaba following a huge backlog of trucks that were lining up at the border waiting for clearance.
The ministers at a press briefing at the OSBP in Malaba Uganda said the diversion of empty cargo trucks to Lwakhakha would be implemented immediately but the diversion would be temporary. They, however, did not give a deadline for the suspension.
But Osiya said the suspension had remained in force despite Malaba remaining decongested.
“The last time ministers were here we agreed that the decisions that are made for Malaba should not come from them, that those decisions should come from the people who are on the ground,” he said.
“Just the other day, we decided to go an extra mile in terms of business to have parking on the other side in Uganda so that to create a way for empty trucks to exit to Kenya.
"So far, we are going to pay parking fees on the other side of Uganda. But still, the Ugandan authorities are sabotaging the facilitation of trade. They still insist on our empty trucks to go all the way to Lwakhakha and they don’t give us the reason why that should happen.”
During the ex-cabinet minister’s tour, Macharia said frequent backlog at the border was a major concern for Kenya and Uganda since it negatively impacted on trade and health sectors in Kenya and Uganda.
The former CS said clearance of the backlog will always be given priority as Kenya and Uganda continue to bolster trade ties.
Truck drivers who spoke to the media on Tuesday said the Lwakhakha route for drivers delivering clinker to Tororo Cement was longer.
They also said the Lwakhakha route was insecure since some of their colleagues had been attacked at night.
“I don’t know what is so funny in Malaba that this policy is only implemented in Malaba. We are tired with the business of passing through Lwakhakha.”
Osiya said the strike by the clearing agents would remain for as long as their grievances will not be addressed.
“We are here to send a message of the only language they understand – that is for us to down tools for them come back to a negotiating table so that we tell them this is how we want things done,” Osiya said.
He said as a result of the diversion of empty trucks to Lwakhakha, the business community had lost hugely.
“We are not working anymore because businesses are dying and job opportunities are dying,” he said.
He said for a clearing agent to move to Lwakhakha border, he or she has to spend at least Sh500 to and from Malaba to go and earn Sh200 from an empty truck after clearance.
“So how do you spend Sh500 to get paid Sh200? How do you work on a loss? Let us have options. If a driver feels comfortable going the Lwakhakha way, that is fine – like the ones who go the South Sudan route, that is alright for them," Osiya said.
"We will have no problem for them exiting through Lwakhakha. But we hate a situation where a driver all the way from Mbale, Kampala, Jinja or Tororo is forced to go to Lwakhakha.”