Ugandans have been warned to expect the ongoing fuel shortage to last at least ten more days, even after the government scrapped a $30 Covid-19 testing charge for truck drivers entering through the country’s land borders.
While everyone coming or going through Uganda’s main international airport-Entebbe, has always been required to pay for Covid-19 tests, the government had suspended this requirement for those going or coming in via land borders.
However, the Ministry of Health announced just before Christmas that those coming through the land borders would get tested, and this required payment, as surveillance had found too many omicron cases imported into Uganda by people using the road to travel from neighboring countries.
According to the Minister of Energy, Ruth Nankabirwa, the fuel shortage started building around January 1, when the directive by the Ministry of Health came into effect, as truck drivers at the Uganda-Kenya border parked their vehicles, arguing they were spending too much on multiple Covid-19 tests.
The truck drivers insisted their tests from Kenya should be valid when entering Uganda. The strike by the drivers lasting at least one week was suspended, after Rebecca Kadaga the Minister for East African Community Affairs announced that truck drivers would no longer need to pay the $30 charge, as valid Covid-19 tests could be obtained from accredited laboratories in Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.
“The Uganda Cabinet has reaffirmed the decision of the sectoral committee of health and the Council of Ministers of the East African Community to acknowledge the 14-day validity of the negative PCR results for travelers in the region,” she announced via her Twitter handle on Jan 18.
According to her, the Covid-19 test results would be valid for as long as they were done by accredited laboratories within the East African Community partner states which include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Following the announcement that truck drivers could use the same test results for a journey within a 14-day period, the drivers called off their strike. But even then, an official at Uganda’s Ministry of Energy says a period of about ten days would be needed for the shortage in the market to correct itself.
Solomon Muyita, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy says that even after clearing the backlog of cargo trucks at the border, drivers would have to do a return trip before fuel companies can start to have the right amount of stocks.
As a landlocked country, Mr. Muyiita says Uganda imports 95 percent of the 6.5 million litres of fuel it uses daily via a pipeline in Eldoret Kenya that is connected to Mombasa port on the Indian Ocean. The rest of the fuel comes in via Dar es Salam port-Tanzania, also on the Indian Ocean.
While Mr. Muyita says it will take time for the price and availability of fuel to normalize, Uganda’s Prime Minister has advised Ugandans to boycott fuel stations selling above Ush5000 ($1.4) for a litre of fuel.
“I want to advise Ugandans to go to petrol stations that have not hiked the prices. Two companies have not hiked the prices and therefore go buy from those ones. These others will follow suit because it is now not necessary for any company to hike the price above five thousand,” says Robinah Nabbanja the Prime Minister.
The fuel crisis following the strike at the border with Kenya was such that some petrol stations in Uganda were selling a litre at Ush12, 000 ($3.4). Even with the hikes associated with Christmas travel and the increasing prices of crude oil on the international market, a litre of fuel had been retailing at about Ush4,700 ($1.3) before the strike by truck drivers.
The incident has resulted in a general reduction in the amount of travel, while some economic activities such as fishing and transportation of agricultural products have also been halted because the cost of transportation had become too high.