Diplomatic Row brewing Between Kenya & Tanzania over Covid-19 Containment Measures

A diplomatic row is brewing between Kenya and Tanzania over the positive Covid-19 status of some Tanzanian truck drivers and the subsequent denial of their entry into Kenya. Close to 100 Tanzanian truck drivers have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past two weeks.

 

On Monday, May 18, Kenya turned away 53 truck drivers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus at its border points with Tanzania. Out of the 53 results, 51 were Tanzanian truck drivers while two were Burundian nationals, entering Kenya from Tanzania, Health Chief Administrative Secretary, Rashid Aman said.

 

Long Cue as Trucks wait to enter Uganda from Kenya from Malaba Border

 

“There are 53 truck drivers who tested positive for Covid-19 at various points of entry on the Kenya-Tanzania border within 24 hours, and all were referred back to Tanzania,” said Mr. Aman. He noted that there was a threat from the Tanzanian side in terms of the number of people testing positive, and therefore, the need to make sure that testing continued to keep out those who turned positive.

By Monday 18, Kenya had recorded 912 Covid-19 cases after testing 44,851 samples. The number of recoveries was 336, while the number of fatalities was 50.

Just hours after the 53 drivers were denied entry into Kenya, Tanzania in a tit-for-tat rebuff banned all Kenyan trucks from entering Tanzania. “Hatuwezi tukaruhusu madereva ya Kenya kuingia Tanzania, wakati wengi wao wako na corona, wakae huko kwao na coronavirus yao (We cannot allow Kenyan truck drivers to enter Tanzania when most of them have coronavirus – let them stay in their country with their coronavirus)," said a visibly angry Martine Shigella, Regional Commissioner, Tanga, Tanzania

Ironically, other trucks with cargo heading to Malawi, Uganda, DRC, and Zambia were allowed entry.

The official was echoing President John Magufuli’s sentiments where he questioned the testing exercise by the Kenyan officials. He told a Church gathering on Sunday, May 17 that after testing positive in Kenya, the Tanzanians tested negative when they returned to the country. He went on to announce that Covid-19 cases were on a decline and that he will be re-opening schools.

“Hata mtoto wangu wa kuzaliwa alikuwa na corona na amepona (even my child had Covid-19, but he has since recovered fully," President Magufuli told the congregation.

Reacting to the ban later while addressing the media, Cabinet Secretary downplayed the rebuff, pointing out that there were mechanisms in place to address such issues within the East African Community. He expressed confidence that the mechanisms will be put to play.

 

Testing of truck drivers for Covid-19 ongoing at Kenyan border with Tanzania

 

However, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have so far held three successful virtual meetings on the coordinated response to curb the spread of the novel Covid-19, especially through the cross borders. This is the third meeting that the three East African Presidents have held with President John Magufuli, and President Pierre Nkurunziza of Rwanda being conspicuously absent.

In an address to the Nation on Saturday, May 16, President Uhuru announced the closure of the country’s border with Tanzania and Somalia, declaring a cessation of movement of persons and passengers into and out of the two countries, except for cargo. The order was effective Saturday night.  This he said he did with advice from the National Emergency and Response committee on coronavirus in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“All drivers of cargo vehicles shall be subjected to mandatory Covid-19 disease testing, and will only be granted entry into the territory of the Republic of Kenya if they test negative," the President said during his sixth address to the nation on coronavirus pandemic.

While saying that the government will continue to take every measure to protect the lives of Kenyans from Covid-19 and to plan for the recovery of the economy, the President clarified that the measures did not mean to create bad blood between Kenya and its neighbors.

“I am as anxious as all of you to get back to building this country, however, we will only be able to do this sooner we sharply suppress the growth of infections,” President Uhuru said.

On the closing of the borders, the President noted that this had been prompted by the increased imported cases among individuals crossing into the country through borders making it a concern. In less than a week, a total of 43 cases were from the cross borders with neighbouring Somalia and Tanzania

"These numbers and the spread of infection indicate that if no action is taken, all the gains already achieved in combating this pandemic will undoubtedly be at a loss," the President noted.

Uganda on Monday announced that all truck drivers in Uganda will undergo mandatory testing for Covid-19 according to new regulations and procedures set out on Saturday.  This was a direct result of Saturday’s virtual meeting between Presidents Uhuru (Kenya), Museveni (Uganda), and Kagame (Rwanda).

According to the Daily Monitor, all of Uganda’s 4,000 truck drivers will undergo mandatory testing for Covid-19 as part of the new measures. The responsibility lies in the hands of transport and logistic companies that will have to arrange for their drivers within the country to be tested. 

The new Truck-Driver Journey Management System Mobile application will track the movement of all truck drivers in the country and will be managed by both truck companies in Uganda and the country’s Ministry of Health.  Before the new measures go into force, drivers will be tested at the entry point and be allowed to proceed with their journey as they await the test results.

“Before, we had difficulties because the tests we were using would give drivers the chance of entering the country and get results later," Dr. Monica Musenero is quoted as saying, adding that the new application will give drivers results before they can continue.

With the recent developments, tension is already building between Kenyans and Tanzanians. Truck drivers from Tanzania and Kenya have reportedly appealed to the two presidents to address the issues, even if need be with a mediator before this spills over to other East African countries.