he Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS) is currently monitoring movement of at least 72,900 truck drivers across the East Africa region in a move that has significantly reduced delays at the border crossing points.
Speaking during the World Trade Organisation Aid for Trade stocktaking conference, Mr Alban Odhiambo, the TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) senior director for trade environment, said the App–which is available on the Google Play Store- is monitoring at least 90 percent of truck drivers across the East Africa.
TMEA partnered with key agencies in the private sector, including the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA), to develop the App to address serious delays at border posts lasting for up to 2 weeks.
Held last week, the meeting explored strategies to deepen private sector participation in implementing African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The African Development Bank, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and International Trade Centre (ITC) organized the session.
The App was launched in September 2020 by the EAC Secretariat in partnership with TMEA and the European Union, which has been key in the fight against Covid-19, especially among cross border traders.
“Since we launched the App in September 2020, over 72,900 drivers have downloaded it. This represents over 90 percent of cross border trade drivers in the entire EAC,” Mr Odhiambo said, adding that whereas the current App was built in English, there are ongoing efforts to localise it in languages spoken widely in EAC such as French and Swahili, among others.
During the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, truck drivers were super spreaders and because of their cross-border movements, and they faced many challenges to move around the region since EAC had not adopted common protocols on how to deal with COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the roll-out, cross border truck drivers had been spending many days in long queues at border posts, which had disrupted both trade and movement of goods, services and people.
The RECDTS is part of TMEA’s $23m Safe Trade Emergency Facility that seeks to support governments in the region to undertake critical measures along the transport and trade routes.
Mr Frank Matsaert, the TMEA chief executive officer, said because Covid-19 is going to be around for some time, it was important that the region focuses on long-term recovery measures to support trade.
Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) Chief Executive Office Mr Dennis Ombok, in a recent interview said that most of the drivers have now gained smart phones and the system has eased border crossing.
Whereas it took up to 10 days to get tests on manual systems, the COVID-19 tests once carried out allows the driver to continue with the journey and in case the test turns positive, they are quarantined in the next test point.
During the virtual meeting, Ms Caroline Kobusinge, a health officer at the Malaba One Stop Border Post, said the App had eased clearance at border posts because by the time truck drivers arrive, their certificates are already in the digital system.
“When a driver arrives, he opens the App and displays the code to the port health official. The code is scanned to confirm that the results displayed are authentic to clear truckers to continue to immigration,” she said.
Every step, data and information about a driver is monitored at a common command center in Nairobi being run by the TMEA. This initiative is also being supported by the East Africa Community (EAC), National Governments and private sector and the Federation of East Africa Freight Forwarders Association (FEAFFA), which mobilized players.
The system enables digital verification of transit documents and travel authorization by law enforcement, customs and immigration at border crossings and other strategic locations along the transit corridors. It also facilitates intuitive analyses of data and surveillance of mobility related to cross-border movements for better management of the pandemic in relation to cross border mobile population segments.
This system is riding on the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (RECTS) platform for tracking cargo movement along the corridors, which previously lacked a component of tracking individuals, which has become necessary in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministries of Health have accounts for relaying test results and another for validating COVID-19 free certificates before allowing the drivers to proceed. The protocol requires a driver to be tested 48 hours before the start of the journey by an accredited facility in any country as long as the facility is configured in the system.
Once the testing has been done, electronic certificates are issued in form of a QR code for future scanning and validation by the health officials. No certificates are issued for positive results, and in the event of such cases, the country’s health protocols are applied.
By clicking to start the journey, the truck driver’s mobile phone will become a tracking gadget and will be visible to command centers till the end of the journey. The command centers share information in actual time.