A serious truck pile-up has started to build along the Kenya borders with Uganda following the mandatory testing of all drivers at border crossing points. Uganda authorities, on 20th December last year, directed testing of all incoming travelers, including truck drivers.
The directive proposed the review of the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), which allows Covid 19 testing after 14 days, to a shorter duration of 7 days due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which has a shorter incubation period.
Mr. James Kasiti, a truck driver with Power International has been stuck at Amagoro, a few Kilometres from the Malaba border post since 1st January this year waiting for the queue to move.
“I have managed to cover only two and a half Kilometres since I arrived here although I did COVID 19 test at ICD in Nairobi and I have a valid certificate,” Kasita said on phone.
In a recent statement, Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) is also urging the Uganda authorities to consider the new directive and drop the US$ 300 charged per test, which is an additional cost. KTA also wants clarification of how frequently the test will be carried out and their duration. In the other EAC, Covid 19 tests are carried out free of charge.
“We need assurance on the safety and the security of drivers and trucks in case the result turns out positive. Where will the drivers be isolated and at what costs? who will pay the cost? What will be the duration of isolation period if the driver is asymptomatic,” Newton Wang’oo, KTA chairman wrote in a statement copied to the ministers of Health In Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Since 2020, the region has been operating a Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), an initiative that was supported by Trademark East Africa (TMEA), to monitor Covid 19 cases across the borders. Ministries of health in EAC share Covid 19 results from various tests centers and the results are acceptable across the borders, easing crossing time.
Although Ugandan authorities are giving assurances that the changes will not cause traffic jams at the borders, there are fears that there will be traffic pile up because of the logistical limitations in setting up the system, the lack of awareness among the targeted travelers including truck drivers, the lack of sufficient holding bays for the big cargo trucks among others, the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Association (FEAFFA) president Mr. Fred Seka said in a recent statement.
The region has been setting up systems to ensure no more testing is done at the borders to avoid traffic snail-ups. The new measure is introducing a direct additional cost to the private sector which is likely to hurt the end consumers of the cargo being traded across our borders, Seka said.
The private sector is currently taking advantage of the free Covid19 testing provided by some of the partner states, something that this new approach will deprive them of. In addition, other operational expenses such as the increase in demurrage charges are likely to arise due to the increase in truck turnaround times as the private sector attempts to adjust to these new measures, Seka added.
“All EAC partner states should be brought on board to avoid causing unnecessary tensions among them. The EAC secretariat should coordinate the review process to ensure all national concerns including those of Uganda’s are considered. This will minimize disruptions as they were witnessed when covid19 first struck. We need to learn from our past experiences as a region,” Seka said.
He also urged all EAC Partner States to provide free covid19 testing for truck drivers as essential service providers. This will boost the functioning and benefits from the RECDTS.
“For fully vaccinated and recently tested truck drivers, health authorities in the EAC should consider less stringent and cost-friendly alternatives such as rapid tests. This will reduce the number of tests truck drivers are subjected to given the significantly high frequency with which truck drivers cross borders,” Seka said.
For frequent and essential cross-border travelers such as truck drivers, provisions should be made for their tests in one country to continue being recognized and accepted across borders as provided in the RECTDS.
The region should also fast-track the adoption of the EAC Covid19 vaccine passport. This will promote uptake of the covid19 vaccine among truck drivers and other logistics sector workers.
“As a normal practice, all stakeholders in the regional transport and logistics industry should be adequately mobilized and sensitized on this new approach before it is implemented. The consequences of a sudden shift in approach are likely to more harmful as we are starting to witness,” Seka said.