Shipping & Logistics

Porous borders fuel illegal scrap metals trade

Namanga

The busy Namanga border town between Kenya and Tanzania. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • It is now emerging that porous borders are hampering the government’s effort to implement ban on scrap metal trade, with Busia, Namanga, Taveta and Lungalunga being the main routes used by unscrupulous traders.
  • The taxman is currently investigating the mysterious disappearance of a truck held at its Taveta yard for carrying scrap metal.
  • The truck with 22 tonnes of used batteries estimated to be worth Sh1.6 million had been traced from Nairobi and impounded mid-January at the Taveta border before it vanished from the yard days later.

It is now emerging that porous borders are hampering the government’s effort to implement ban on scrap metal trade, with Busia, Namanga, Taveta and Lungalunga being the main routes used by unscrupulous traders.

The taxman is currently investigating the mysterious disappearance of a truck held at its Taveta yard for carrying scrap metal.

The truck with 22 tonnes of used batteries estimated to be worth Sh1.6 million had been traced from Nairobi and impounded mid-January at the Taveta border before it vanished from the yard days later.

“We are aware of the matter and it is currently under investigations by our Mombasa office,” said Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) acting commissioner for customs and border control, Pamela Ahago.

Barely a month after the truck was impounded, KRA officers arrested two occupants of a boat ferrying scrap metal through the Lungalunga border.

Ms Ahago noted that Busia, Namanga, Taveta and Lungalunga are emerging as the main routes illegal traders use to export scrap metals to Uganda and Tanzania.

Automotive battery manufacturers rely on lead extracted and recycled to make the batteries, referred to as recycling spent-lead-acid–batteries (SLABs).

The East African region has two lead acid battery manufacturers, namely Associated Battery Manufacturers (ABM) and Uganda Batteries Limited (UBL) who both produce about 30 percent of the East African market requirement.

These manufacturers acquire the raw materials by collecting SLABs from garages and homes by scrap metal dealers.

However, the proliferation of illicit traders has seen the dwindling of raw materials for manufacturers.

On average, the ABM has been collecting an average of 1,600 tonnes of SLABs monthly but this has reduced to below 600 tonnes.

Kenya, being the largest consumer of lead acid batteries in the EAC, produces more than a third of the SLABs but recycles only about a quarter. The rest disappears into illegal exports into neighbouring countries, mainly Tanzania where there are five smelters.

“From November last year, there has been an increase of illegal exports especially to Tanzania and this has greatly denied us raw materials thus hurting business,” said Michael Wanjala, ABM recycling manager.

While ABM and UBL require SLABs to produce new batteries, the smelters in Tanzania export them to China and the Middle East for the manufacture of automotive and solar batteries.

Kenya banned the export of scrap metal, which comprises SLABs, through a law enacted in 2015.

The legislation is meant to support the retention of the raw material for value addition and provides stringent conditions under which exports of lead would be permitted.

Automotive battery manufacturers have over the past few years been pushing for full implementation of the law that is critical to safeguarding jobs.