Over the past few weeks, Kenya and Uganda have been in a protracted stand-off over safety agreements in the movement of cargo across their borders.
In protest to a decision by the Ugandan government that Kenyan truck drivers would not be allowed to enter the country but required to hand over to Ugandan drivers their trucks who would then deliver the cargo to the final destination, Kenyan truck drivers and transport companies halted movement of cargo, which saw trucks queue stretching to more than 50 kilometres.
This no-entry policy directive came after a number of foreign truck drivers entering Uganda tested positive for the virus.
To be fair to the Ugandan government, they had grounds to be concerned. Kenya was not strictly enforcing some of its directives.
For example, truck drivers were required to be tested 48 hours before leaving Mombasa but some of them were driving straight to Malaba and Busia border without being tested and with those tested not waiting for the results and travelling with the certificate as required.
This led to a large number of drivers showing up for test ing at the border crossing, leading to long queues awaiting clearance.
With the region being a common market protocol where movement of people and goods are expected to flow with little restriction, it was expected that member States would come up with joint safety standards protocol measures at common borders, but there has only been disarray.
Uganda is not the first country to try and implement a no-entry policy for foreign truck drivers. Rwanda attempted it against Tanzanian truck drivers and Kenya also attempted it with Tanzania truck drivers after closing its borders with Tanzania.
It is surprising that this safety protocol agreement became an issue that was heavily contested leading to a delayed stand-off when there is a body of research evidence about control and management of international transmission of disease.
In fact, the recent case to learn lessons from on control of international transmission disease is the Ebola epidemic where between 2014/2015 it spread in West Africa through land borders because of land border movement and Uganda was one of the countries that implemented effective safety measures and surveillance at its borders with the high-risk Democratic Republic of Congo.
Therefore, it was surprising to see that Kenya and Uganda couldn’t secure a safety agreement against Covid-19 with one of the issues simply being about accepting each other’s testing procedures.
This is an issue EAC member States should have agreed on more than two months ago.
The no-entry policy was not a progressive decision because the world is not eradicating coronavirus anytime soon. Therefore, co-operation among neighbouring countries on safety measures is required for business continuity in cross border trade and transport.
Looking at the timeframe between departure at Mombasa port to arrival in Kampala, that lag time provides exit and entry screening at ground crossings to be effective compared to air transport.
Since coronavirus is a low prevalence disease, entry and exit screening combined with visual checks for symptomatic persons at the border crossings will prevent or delay introduction of ill or incubating cases.
For asymptomatic persons not yet tested positive and risk increasing transmission, aggressive surveillance of truck drivers’ movements on the road can be easily implemented to help in contact tracing.
Its already reported that EAC partner states have adopted a regional electronic cargo and drivers tracking system and this is one of the ways to use technology for the aggressive surveillance.
So, the control and management model of the virus for truck drivers is repeated screening of persons, treating and isolating. This is not a safety agreement framework that Kenya and Uganda together with other EAC counterparts cannot implement.
If the member States cannot pull together and have a safety agreement during a global pandemic, is the EAC worth the badge it carries on the African continent as the most advanced regional integration bloc?