Logistics industry stakeholders in the East African Community (EAC) are now shifting their focus and energies on the renewed push to contain further spread of the novel coronavirus. They are also faced by another challenge of ensuring that the region continues to get vital supplies and inputs through the Central and Northern corridor, gateways to the East and Central Africa, in a manner that will sustain the regional economies.
This has come at a time when the truck drivers, a critical chain in the logistics flow, have been cited as a weak link in the fight against Covid-19 after a number of them tested positive at various border crossing points.
Mombasa port, which serves largely transit markets of Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and DRC is reeling in a deep crisis having been identified as an epicenter of the pandemic. The region has in the recent past been recording distressing numbers.
One of the biggest challenges, therefore, facing the region is putting in place measures that can prevent cross border spread of the virus. Uganda and Rwanda have embraced lockdown of their economy in a wider scale than Tanzania and Kenya, which has already restricted movement in four counties, including Mombasa, Northern Corridor’s logistics hub.
The Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA), the umbrella body of the region’s clearing agents has played a central role in the ongoing multi-agency efforts to tackle Covid-19 and enhance trade being employed in the region.
FEAFFA, Kenya Transporters Associations (KTA), Regional Lorry Drivers and Transporters Association (RLDTA) and Tanzania Truck Owners Association (TATOA) held consultative meetings recently to develop recommendation which were presented to National COVID-19 Taskforces in the East Africa Community Partner States. This will inform the ongoing debate and shape the policy measures being pronounced.
These inputs were guided by years’ of experience the agencies have enjoyed informing on how guidelines being employed in handling cargo at various border crossing points could be implemented and made better.
The EAC states have pushed for deployment of relay driving that will see truck drivers swap with their counterparts in transit countries at the borders. Also the drivers are required to undertake mandatory testing at borders. In some instances, they will be required to deliver the cargo to temporary ICDs at borders.
Although all these measures are very plausible for what they intend to achieve, the multi-sectoral team made some improving suggestions. In their recommendations, the team observed that they were experiencing challenge of getting equally competent truck drivers across borders due to lack of a harmonized Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) professional driver training.
“The levels of exposure to various technologies is posing road safety and asset integrity challenges,” the team said in their petition.
Also, the team brought to fore the fact that small and medium sized transporters lacking capacity to mobilize the requisite capacity to operate across the borders may be driven out of business.
Also, relay driving will create difficulties in handling insurance claims related to the cargo and the trucks in case of any eventuality, uncertainty on the safety of the cargo, the trucks as well fuel due to the of involvement multiple drivers.
FEAFFA has been part of the ongoing campaign for enhanced testing at the border points where the number of truck drivers testing positive has been on the rise. This, the multi-sector team observed, can be enhanced through deployment of more medical personnel and equipment to minimize the time taken by truck drivers at borders.
The multi-sectoral team also wants EAC Partner States to fast track establishing a harmonized regional approach on testing and management of the truck drivers during the COVID-19 period. They should consider testing truck drivers at the start of their journeys and or at designated facilities along the corridors to facilitate easy passage through borders. The team also supports proposed cross-border Journey Management System.
FEAFFA has been central in creating sensitization to the industry players general population on the critical role being played to contain the pandemic. It has effectively done this through regular updates through its online portal (www.magazine.feaffa.com) and other social media outlets. The portal has emerged as one of the leading platforms to disseminate logistics related information.
FEAFFA has also been keen on highlighting what local Partner Government Agencies (PGA) are doing to combat Covid-19. For instance, Revenue Authorities announced measures to support the government initiatives aimed at managing the spread of COVID-19 at ports of entry and transit corridors countrywide.
They have also enhanced the use of technology to ensure uninterrupted services to importers, exporters and stakeholders, which we have highlighted. This include the use of Simba System, Integrated Customs Management System (ICMS) and Single Window platforms, which is operated and managed by KenTrade in Kenya and other Partner states.
Due to the ongoing crisis and delays occasioned by slow cargo take off from various entry points in complying with the measures in place, FEAFFA has been central in engaging ports, revenue authorities, regional transporters, Warehouse operators, associations and shipping lines to waiver charges during covid-19.
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