Transport and trade routes are believed to be major infection conduits and present a significant threat to the entire East Africa region, disrupting health, the economy, and regional and national economic supply chains. Governments have responded by introducing important and essential containment measures that must be implemented on the main trade corridors to make them safe, allow goods to keep moving, and to save lives. Without the ability to continue to implement these measures, the risk of border closures, truck driver stigmatisation and escalating disputes among neighbouring countries remains looming.
Malaba and Busia One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) are the busiest inland entry ports on the Northern Corridor and handle over 95% of cargo destined to Uganda, and transit cargo to Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
Trade facilitation initiatives by TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) and other development partners through construction of the OSBPs have greatly improved infrastructural development and coordination of border agencies. This has resulted in faster clearance since all regulatory agencies required for clearance of goods sit under one roof, reducing turn-around time for traders and more importantly lowering cost of doing business. Traffic has increased from 1,500 trucks per day to an average of 3,000 trucks both inbound and outbound at Busia and Malaba OSBPs and border clearance time has dropped substantially.
With the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the region, the smooth flow of cargo at the border crossing had been greatly disrupted. Requirements by the Government of Uganda for all truck drivers entering the country to be tested for Covid-19 has created unprecedented congestion at the border, with traffic sometimes stretching over 32Kms and 7Kms on the import side (Kenya) for Malaba and Busia, respectively.
Though a reasonable policy for health and safety, screening centers were quickly overwhelmed by many truck drivers needing testing. Although Port Health unit had recruited more staff to attend to the growing numbers, space to manage and attend to the many truck drivers was a major challenge. Worse still, the high numbers of truck drivers waiting to be tested created human congestion, resulting in more possibilities of Covid-19 infection.
To address the situation, TMEA partnered with WFP and delivered two support tents to be erected on each OSBP to create more space for screening cargo drivers. Okula Chodrey, Officer In charge Malaba Port Health says this single move more than anything else has enabled them clear congestion at the border and once again have a free flow of cargo trucks.
‘We are very grateful to TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) and World Food Programme (WFP) for the timely delivery of support of tents to rescue the situation at both Malaba and Busia OSBPs. Currently the two tents have been set by WFP team at each OSBP and this has provided five (5) additional screening points for us. This has practically removed the congestion at the screening point due to the many service points and eliminated commotion created by truck drivers due to lengthy queues. And as you can now see, the traffic congestion has been expressly cleared on both import and export roads.’ said Okula.
The deliveries by TMEA and WFP also included Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation goods for border agency officials for their protection in the discharge of their duties. The equipment delivered included 2,524 boxes of disposable gloves, 1,400 pieces of N95 masks, 250 liters of disinfectant liquid, 20 pieces of disposable aprons, 8 pieces of infrared thermometers, 5 pairs of heavy-duty gloves and two tents on both sides to serve as congestion free testing zones.
While delivering the equipment, TMEA Uganda Country Director Moses Sabiti emphasized the need to keep cargo flowing freely along the Northern Corridor while curbing the spread of Covid-19 in the region.
‘This corridor handles a lot of regional trade. It provides passage to essential goods such as food and medication. The equipment donated today will greatly support the two border points conduct efficient and safe clearance of cargo and people’.
TMEA recently unveiled the US$20 million Safe Trade Emergency Facility that will greatly boost safe trade initiatives along key border points, corridors, and ports to ensure safe trade continues uninterrupted. These conditions are critical for resumption of economic activity, food security and social stability, jobs, and economic recovery, as regional governments continue to fight the spread of Covid-19 in the region.
Under the Safe Trade Emergency Facility, one of the key activities is ensuring supply of critical protective equipment to ensure safe trade such as masks, gloves, handwashing stations, soaps, sanitisers, protective gear, etc. are available for regular operations and that full hazardous material suits are available for officials dealing with suspected COVID-19 cases. The initiative will also significantly increase the number of tests administered at the border posts to keep these zones Covid-19 free. The initiative will also make available quarantine facilities for external actors like shipping and transport crews based on testing results and supporting potential re-organisation of OSBPs to provide permanent port health and quarantine facilities.