Efforts to improve the trade between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo have made a significant stride with the ongoing construction of Goli/Mahagi One Stop Border Posts between the two countries.
Mahagi (DRC)/Goli (Uganda) is one of DR Congo’s busiest border crossings, at the axis linking the popular centres of Arua (Uganda), Bunia (DRC), Kisangani (DRC) and the port of Mombasa (Kenya) along the Northern Corridor.
Speaking during a tour of the projects recently, Ivan Isaac Lukabwe, a surveyor from the works ministry and a member of construction management team at Goli said the construction works at the two projects are at 17%, despite the time duration being at 50%, which is behind schedule because of a few glitches, especially in regards with site possession, which have since been resolved.
“The works are ongoing, and the funding is still available, and the anticipation is that by the end of this year, the projects should be at least 95% complete and end of January next year, we should have completed and handed over the sites to URA for management,” Lukabwe said.
TMEA Uganda acting country director Damali Ssali also said the infrastructure projects will boost trade between Uganda and DR Congo since it will be a major boost to both the cross border and transit trade. TMEA is financing the OSBP.
The border post was characterised by dilapidated infrastructure and border inefficiency, which resulted in a poor environment for handling and processing goods and people, despite the enormous volume of the trade between the two countries.
In 2018, the value of goods traded by small traders between DRC and Uganda was estimated at $218.10 million. In December 2018, it had increased to about $279.47 million, increasing further to about $355.28 million in early 2020.
OSBPs reduce transit time and costs for cross-border movements by integrating Customs processes of border agencies of two neighbouring countries in one place without increasing risks to public security or revenues collection. Transiting users stop once in the destination country for customs clearance, entry and exit processes.
In 2019, TMEA supported the construction and initiation of One-Stop Border Post across 7 border crossing points in the East African Community (EAC) Partner States and the Tunduma border post between Tanzania and Zambia. A survey of time and traffic to cross these borders showed that they have contributed to reducing crossing times by an average of 70%, besides facilitating the movement of people and goods. The results exceeded projected targets.
The significance of OSBPs has been highlighted recently since the COVID-19 pandemic, which led several countries to close their borders and restrict travels. Initial reports show that OSPBs (such as Malaba and Busia between Kenya and Uganda) have more easily implemented health and hygiene measures while still facilitating movement of goods and reducing long delays.
Platforms for collaboration between border agencies created through their respective OSPBs are turning to be very useful tools for issuing consistent messages and adaptive solutions to problems. Once complete, Goli-Mahagi, project will integrate hygiene, security, information and sanitation measures to ensure the border response to current and future epidemics outbreaks.
The expansion of the TMEA programme to DRC, particularly the east, was at the invitation of the Government. Priority projects include the construction OSPBs of Mahagi and Ruzizi II; the latter is in Bukavu, DRC and is adjacent to Rusizi II on the Rwanda side.
DRC recently signed a bilateral deal with Kenya- the Agreement on Maritime Freight Management, which revised from earlier arrangements. It will be the basic legal framework in handling all freight cargo coming through Mombasa destined for the DRC.
President Kenyatta told a joint press conference that Nairobi is seeking to bring the region “closer so that we can fight our common problems together.”
When fully implemented, the deal will address delays on DRC imports by dedicating clearing channels for the goods headed for the DR Congo market.
The move came as Kenya showed wish to improve its trade with DRC from last year’s Sh1.8 billion, 70 per cent of which were goods sold to eastern DRC.
And, despite the country relying on eastern Africa sea ports for imports, Mombasa handles less than 15 per cent of the share of goods sent to DRC, with Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Beira in Mozambique getting the bulk.
President Kenyatta said: “I believe that our commonality gives us a very good opportunity for us to deepen our relations further as we work together to achieve these objectives for the people of our respective countries. One thing I’d like our two [technical] teams to work on is to ensure that we ease the problem of our people being able to travel between our two countries.”
Having a proper cargo handling framework will also mean that both sides harmonise the fees charged on goods imported on their territories. Kenyan drivers had complained recently of abrupt charges while delivering goods to the DRC.