EAC agrees to cost-free Covid tests at borders

Trucks on the Tororo-Malaba road last week. PHOTO/JUSTIN D EMEDOT

What you need to know:

  • The move will clear the backlog of trucks and drivers who have been parked on the Kenyan side of the border.

The Council of Ministers of the East African Community have taken a decision to permit cost-free testing at the border posts of Busia and Malaba for seven days.

This is aimed at clearing the backlog of trucks and drivers who have been parked on the Kenyan side of the border.
On her Twitter handle, the Minister of East African Affairs, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, said: “It has further been proposed that in future truck drivers will have to show proof of vaccination to facilitate their movement in the region.”

According to Ms Kadaga, discussions would continue between the health ministers on other details. 
The meeting comes as government seeks to find a solution to the 10- day border impasse that threatens regional trade and movement. 

In a meeting last week, government had noted there was need to find a balance between economic and health interest, which have been disrupted by Covid-19. 

Truck drivers are challenging government’s decision to charge them $30 (about Shs105,382) to test Covid-19, yet, they say, is unnecessary and a burdensome cost, which is free in other EAC members countries, particularly Kenya. 

They have since indicated, under the Kenya Transporters Association, that the cost will in return be borne by importers and many parked their vehicles in protest.  

In a December 20, 2021 letter, the Ministry of Health instructed that every truck driver must be tested before entering Uganda, irrespective of previous test status. 

However, in a January 3 notice, Mr Newton Wango’o, the Kenya Transporters Association chairperson, informed importers across the region that the decision by the Uganda Ministry of Health to charge each truck driver to test for Covid-19 before entering or transiting through Uganda had left them with no alternative but to recover the same cost from importers. 

“These costs continue to slice our margins exposing transporters to an uncertain future,” he wrote in a notice to importers, noting  the Kenyan government was doing it free of charge with results remaining valid for 14 days. 

Mr Wango’o said whereas Kenya Transporters Association appreciates the sovereignty of countries and the duty of governments to protect their citizens, “the additional costs are simply unbearable by transporters who are barely surviving considering the increase in fuel costs and other associated costs that have not been factored in our rates over the last two years”.

Mr Hussein Kiddedde, the chairman of Uganda Freight Forwarders Association, yesterday appealed to government to align to EAC Covid-19 mitigation protocols as well as engaging other partners in case there are issues of concern.

“I think we should focus on a common EAC approach as opposed to each country going it alone. We need to balance health and economy, otherwise one shall drown the other. Whereas the charges appear small, the practical delays that come with cross-border testing, resultant fatigue on drivers for every trip, increases cost of doing business,” he said. 

In a December 31 letter, Mr Fred R. Seka, the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations, raised a number of concerns, noting that the $30 charge was quite high, urging Uganda to suspend the new approach.

“All EAC partner states should consider providing free Covid-19 testing for truck drivers as essential service providers,” he said, noting that for frequent and essential cross-border travellers, provisions should be made for their tests in one country to continue being recognised and accepted across borders. 

Drivers’ costs 
Malaba border Covid-19 Shs110, 000, Shs20, 000 for parking and $205 road user to Mombasa.
If a trucker driver has to proceed to Elegu South Sudan border, registration costs Shs16,000, a yellow fever card Shs40,000, Registration( 2) Shs10,000
Road user Shs50,000, Covid-19 Shs100, 000.
At the Uganda-Rwanda Milama Hills border road user fees costs $76 (Shs269, 800) plus the $50 (Shs177, 500) for taking a Covid-19 test.
Crossing through Mutukula –Tanzania-Uganda border a road user fees to Dar es Salaam costs $500 (Shs1,775,000) one way. Plus $50 (177,500) Covid-19 test fees.
A trucker driver who crossed to Burundi will incur the costs, to enter Uganda, and those of Rwanda plus the $72 (Shs255, 600) to enter Burundi. 
Burundi’s covid-19 testing is free of charge.


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