NAIROBI, Kenya May 19 – Kenya Tuesday stepped up its diplomatic engagement with Tanzania to avert an escalation of a cross-border trade standoff occasioned by a disagreement over the screening of truckers at the border point for COVID-19.
Speaking on two separate occasions, Kenya’s High Commission to Tanzania Dan Kazungu and East African Community Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohammed said it is against the spirit of the regional integration to block Kenyan truckers from crossing over into Tanzania.
Kazungu told news reporters in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania, that Kenya had not barred Tanzanian trucks from entering Kenya insisting they must undergo COVID-19 test at the border-point as had been agreed by the EAC Heads of State.
“We have been forced to take this step not to discriminate against or to target Tanzania, but our objective is to contain the further spread of this deadly virus. We must know that this virus as our common enemy. If we shift our focus and start fighting among ourselves this enemy will claim more lives,” he cautioned.
“I want state it clearly here, that when the President gave the cessation of movement order in and out of Tanzania he was very clear that any trucker whether Kenyan or Tanzanian should be allowed to proceed with the their journey, once it is established that they have tested negative,” Kazungu explained
He said that stand-off goes against the principles of the EAC which is aimed at fostering regional cohesion, love and regional cooperation under the platform of shared brotherhood.
Tanzanian truckers had lamented over delays at the border with some indicating they had waited for COVID-19 clearance for more than a week.
But speaking when he appeared before the Senate Committee on National Cohesion, Equal Opportunity and Regional Integration, Adan said the Tanzanians might end up incurring more loses if the border stand-off with Kenya persists noting the volume of trade was titled in their favour.
The East African Community Affairs Cabinet Secretary stressed Kenya is keen to ensure movement of goods is not affected as government upscales COVID-19 containment measures.
This comes a day after Martine Shigela, Regional Commissioner in Tanga , Tanzania, warned that any Kenyan truck will not be allowed into the country.
CS Adan said customs officials record on average between 120 and 170 vehicles from Namanga side on a daily basis.
“Really this is in their interest. It is in their favour not to interfere with this programme and that is why we are saying we are watching very careful. I have conversations with our border points officers everyday to see how we can deal with some of those issues.”
The stand-off was sparked off by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address over the weekend in which he ordered the closure the country’s borders with Tanzania and Somalia to all passenger traffic following the rise of cross-border COVID-19 transmissions.
On Monday, the government announced that 53 truck drivers tested positive at the various entry points between Kenya and Tanzania, including 51 Tanzanians. They were all turned back.
The following day, Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu banned Kenyan trucks from crossing the border, saying they would be offloaded at the border.
This came after Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli on Sunday termed Kenya’s move inappropriate citing adverse impacts the measures would have on the economy.