KIGALI – The East African Community (EAC) has played down the raging crisis over movement of cargo trucks between Tanzania and Kenya due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The regional organization says there was no cause for alarm because the two partner states have competent authorities to handle the matter bilaterally.
“This is a bilateral issue”, affirmed Steven Mlote, the deputy secretary general in charge of Planning and Infrastructure.
He was responding to a decision made by the Arusha regional secretariat to test all inbound truck drivers crossing the Namanga border from Kenya.
Samples collected from the drivers and their assistants would then be sent to Dar es Salaam at the central national laboratory for testing and subsequent release of test results.
The measure was announced by the Arusha regional commissioner Mrisho Gambo Wednesday, attributing it high infection rates of Covid-19 across the borders.
“We have deliberately taken this decision in order to protect our citizens against any Covid-19 infections from the neighbouring country”, he said in a widely circulated press release.
The measure has, however, been criticized as it would force incoming drivers from across the border to wait until the test results are sent back from Dar es Salaam.
Mr. Mlote said EAC would honour any measure taken by its partner states to curb the spread of virus, already with about 2,000 confirmed cases in the region.
“Each country has its own right to put in place a system it deems appropriate to fight the disease”, he said, noting that he found no contradiction with the Arusha RC’s directive.
However, he reaffirmed the EAC preference that it would have been better if all the partner states applied uniform measures to combat the pandemic.
According to the Arusha RC, the new system of collecting Covid-19 test samples from truck drivers coming trough the Kenyan border started on May 14th, extending to May 18th.
Out of a total of 78 drivers, all arriving from Kenya on May 14th and 16th May 24 drivers tested positive, 21 of whom were from Kenya.
The results of samples taken om May 18th, all arriving through the common border,, are still being awaited from the main national laboratory in Dar es Salaam.
The deputy SG said EAC would not interfere with the models applied by each country to address the EAC crisis but was ready to advise the partner states accordingly on the crisis.
“I don’t know why Tanzania took its model (of less restrictions). The Kenyan situation of lock down depended on the situation on the situation on the ground”, he said.
A tourism consultant in Arusha, however, attribute the cargo trucks crisis between the two countries to lack of communication among the leaders of the two countries.
“All these shows failure of communication. There is a mistrust between the two countries”, said Elisha Mayallah who is conversant with the border operations.
He lauded the Kenyan High Commissioner to Tanzania Dan Kazungu for clarifying on his government’s position on the issue during his media brief on Tuesday but said his intervention came late.
“He should have pre-empted the situation much earlier”, he said, noting that both countries – two largest economies in the EAC – would be losers with deteriorating relations.
“We buy more from Kenya than they buy from us. Kenya is also a market for our agricultural produce”, he told The Citizen on phone.
The East African Business Council (EABC) on its part appealed to the member countries in the bloc to embrace truck drivers and motivate them to continue moving essential goods across the borders.
“This will boost the availability of medical, personal protection equipment (PPEs) and food crucial to protecting the health of our citizens and improving food security in the region”, it said in a statement.