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Shipping & Logistics

Will Kenya-Ethiopia border post plan spur bilateral trade?

Donkeys in Mandera
Donkeys in Mandera transporting beans and maize sourced from Ethiopia. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The One Stop Border Post (OSBP) at the Kenya-Ethiopia border in Moyale may turn out to be a white elephant if measures to increase trade volumes through the facility are not stepped up, stakeholders in the logistics sector have warned.

While interviews with officials in various government departments said there were efforts to increase trade volumes passing through the border point, the reality on the ground shows that two unofficial (panya) routes are being used where revenue is collected.

It emerged that there is no goodwill in promoting use of the OSBP with authorities in one of the regions in Ethiopia collecting taxes at the two border points, about three kilometres on each side of the OSBP.

“The challenge we are facing is that there are two unofficial routes on each side of the border that traders use,” Kennedy Nyaiyo, director of Border Management Secretariat said yesterday, but declined to confirm whether revenue is collected at these points.

In March last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, while presiding over the official opening of a two-day Kenya-Ethiopia high-level trade forum in Addis Ababa, pledged to deepen trade and economic ties between the two countries.

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It was hoped that the OSBP would be commissioned last year after construction was completed in 2018 at a cost of over Sh800 million but due to tensions at the border this has not happened.

An OSBP is a border crossing point where migration officials of both countries operate under one roof to facilitate trade and ease movement of goods and people. There are other OSBPs at Malaba, Busia, Namanga and Taveta on the Kenya-Uganda and Kenya-Tanzania borders.

During his visit to Moyale last October, National Treasury secretary Ukur Yattani expressed concern over underutilisation of the modern facility and outlined a number of initiatives that the state planned to execute to improve operations of the OSBP with the aim of boosting Kenya-Ethiopia trade and relations.

He called on residents of Upper Eastern region to take advantage of the Moyale One Stop Border Point to ensure its full utilisation.

Construction of the Isiolo-Moyale road was expected to improve trade along the route, and is part of the link between Nairobi and Addis Ababa.

Fearing to ignite a diplomatic tiff with Addis Ababa, Kenyan officials interviewed for this story did not want to point an accusing finger at the Ethiopian authorities over the use of the panya routes to collect taxes, only saying there were efforts to sensitise residents on the importance of using the official border point.

On Tuesday, Kevin Safari, commissioner for Customs and Border Control said after meetings with Ethiopian officials, they had decided to carry out sensitisation among the residents of both countries.

“We are engaging with the business community so that they get to understand the importance of using the official routes,” he told Shipping & Logistics in a phone interview.

Officials were also cagey about official data of trade volumes at the OSBP, with the Shippers Council of Eastern Africa (SCEA) executive officer Gilbert Langat saying they were carrying out an analysis on the volumes and impact of the OSBPs on businesses and would soon release their findings.

In order to address the issue of illicit trade along the border, the government intends to establish more OSBPs, which will also boost trade, revenue collection, integrate border management operations and enhance security, Mr Nyairo said.

The initiative is a multi-agency approach by the Border Management Secretariat, immigration department, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Port Health, Border Police Patrol Unit, Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), Kephis, among others, he said.

The Ethiopia-Kenyan border stretches for over 830km and is served by only one official border point at Moyale, resulting in the emergence of several other crossing points.

“Putting two more border entry points will greatly boost trade and seal all the porous border points that encourage illicit trade,” said Mr Nyairo, adding that the agency was currently carrying out assessment to establish the suitability of Forole and Illeret in Marsabit that have been earmarked for the purpose.

Other areas where the posts will be set up include Siftu in Wajir, Markamari and Rhamu in Mandera and Todunyang in Turkana. The border points will incorporate areas of operations such as livestock and livestock product markets and stock root mapping to put banditry in check. They will also boost livestock disease control measures put in place by the concerned agencies along the border point.

Marsabit county trade department was tasked to begin monitoring trade volumes and statistically gauge the economic growth as soon as the projects are complete.

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