NAIROBI, Kenya, May 20- Kenya and Tanzanian governments have moved to resolve their border standoff that has paralysed transport for several days over a tedious COVID-19 testing procedure that locked out many drivers.
The stand-off escalated this week when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the closure of the Namanga border and all other routes to and from the country following increased cases of COVID-19 by drivers from the neighbouring country.
By the time he announced the closure, more than 20 Tanzanian truck drivers had been turned away at the border after testing positive for the virus.
This led to a pile-up of trucks at the main Namanga border where mandatory testing is done, coordinated by both countries.
Since the border closure, Tanzanian government officials in Arusha and other border towns have publicly protested, accusing Kenya of discriminating their truck drivers.
And on Saturday, Martin Shigella, the Tanga Regional Commissioner was more blunt, declaring that no Kenyan truck or driver will be allowed to cross into Tanzania, accusing them of exporting COVID-19 to the country which is largely seen as the weak link in managing coronavirus in the region, and the world. He also warned Tanzanians against buying goods in Kenya.
But on Wednesday, President John Pombe Magufuli announced on a tour to Singinda region, that “COVID-19 pandemic will not threaten our association with Kenya.”
He said he had held talks with his Kenyan counterpart Kenyatta, and agreed to have their ministers resolve the matter.
“We are good neighbours, I have held talks with [president] Kenyatta and we have agreed,” he told a cheerful crowd from the sunroof of his Landcruiser, “Kenya and Tanzania need each other.”
Both countries rely on each other for trade.
“Our economies need each other, our onions are sold in Kenya and Kenya exports milk and other items here,” he said, rooting for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
“We have agreed [with President Uhuru Kenyatta] that our Transport Ministers and officials in charge of the borders will meet and resolve this small matter,” he said.
While Kenya makes public the number of COVID-19 cases which stood at 1,029 and 50 deaths by Wednesday, Tanzania stopped announcing its tally three weeks ago at 22 when Magufuli accused lab officials of inefficiency or complicity in testing cases.
He, at the time, said he had sent in samples from animals, plants and even motor vehicle oil to gauge the lab officials’ effectiveness while giving them fake names of locals.
And to his surprise, he said, some of the samples were declared to have coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Magufuli told Tanzanians they do not need to wear masks or stay at home because that will compromise their immunity to diseases.
“I asked you to pray continuously and I am glad we are seeing the results,” he said, “I decided that I will not declare a lockdown in our country because our economy depends on you. As you can see, I don’t have a mask and I can see most of you don’t have it because you don’t need it.”
The US government and various international organisations have warned of a COVID-19 crisis in Tanzania due to lack of proper measures by the government to stem the spread.
And with the government not making public its tally, many are left to guess on the situation on the ground.