How else can one describe lack of planning than through the situation of headless trucks destined for great lakes region that are lining up on the Busia County transnational highways because COVID-19 tests cannot be done? Students of planning or crisis communication or disaster management in Kenya have a clear case study that will take longer to get off the minds of Kenyans. The case study on truck drivers and how it has been handled might resemble how Kenya Airways handled their flight routes to West Africa during the Ebola crisis.
It’s traumatizing and heart wrenching experiences for communities in the county, every day hearing the number of positive cases, the helplessness displayed by the authorities on handling the problem while at the same time having to sympathize with the drivers, who seem discriminated and helpless.
The community members are accommodating some of the drivers in their homes, sharing meals, local drinks and food, because some of the drivers are broke, stay without meals or have to travel to town to get meals using boda bodas. In fact, the worry is that more community mass testing is yet to begin and already even with failure in tracing some of the drivers that have tested positive, the facilities are already stressed in the county. People around the main highways are highly exposed, and it seems nobody is listening.
In addition, the long queues that have been witnessed in places like Malaba and Busia border points and now the criminalized and inhuman treatment meted on truck drivers has led to lengthy Turn Around Times (TAT) that in turn have created huge financial pressure on truck drivers and by extension investors in the business, some of who are now defaulting on loans.
How did we allow the trucks to leave whenever they are coming from, go past several counties- we had been told that there are inter-county screening teams- not sure this is working and when the trucks were leaving their points of departure- what preparations did the authorities put in place to ensure quick cross border clearance- and again from the look of things- if these trucks have been staying along the highways for such long days- what was the hurry in releasing them from their origin? And if they can stay for that long without delivering the goods- it means the cargo was not an emergency- so why release them in the first place?
Did the county or national disaster management teams anticipate this problem, and what they plan or are doing about it? While efforts by the County and National Government have been created, it is not reassuring or creating the confidence required in dealing with such a disaster.
More appalling is that people, who are on genuine visits especially from Nairobi to the country are harassed and discriminated while the same energy has not been extended to deal with the truck drivers’ case
The manner in which truck drivers are being treated presents them as people who are irresponsible and opposed to diligent business practices and testing taking place to stop the spread of the virus across the borders; are belligerent and rogue characters who are not cooperating with border officials to ensure the containment of the COVID-19. The criminalization and discrimination of a section of the society in the war against COVID-19 outbreak, for reasons purely outside their control including poor information sharing and surveillance of health issues across the borders. Prioritizing a security approach rather than a public health intervention in a region that different democratic dispensation was going to create tension across the borders.
The Regional Development and Cooperation Strategy (RDCS), USAID/Kenya and East Africa (USAID/KEA) notes that to protect communities from the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, regional health and cross-sectoral systems must be strengthened and cross-border collaboration must increase including the facilitation of health information-sharing across borders and transport corridors and to sustainably finance health systems that address management of the migrant populations. The USAID/KEA strategy notes that for evidence-based policies, regulations and standards adopted for best practices to be implemented throughout East Africa, national governments must have shared priorities that drive the development of harmonized policy.
More importantly, the strategy notes that the health needs of mobile and vulnerable populations along the borders must be addressed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases across borders. Given the interdependency of our countries and citizens living along the borders, the closure of borders and slow of movement of trucks across the borders will definitely lead to the increase in illegal businesses through illegal routes along the borders, which has a bigger problem of promoting the sale of illicit trade and sub-standard goods.
The Writer works at the Media Council of Kenya