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Shipping & Logistics

Regional trade hit as virus slows down border clearance

Kenya-Uganda border
Oil tankers await customs clearance at the Kenya-Uganda border in Busia. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

With border closures announced to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the road transport sector has been hardest hit. The road transport accounts for over 60 percent of goods movement from ports of entry to the region.

Besides shutting of the borders, more checks have been introduced to minimise exposure and curtail export of the virus.

Logistics experts have predicted business could reduce by more than half going forward, with players calling for measures to minimise disruption and provide a critical service.

Kagure Wamunyu, Africa region chief executive officer at Kobo360, said logistics business will drop by 50 percent since borders trucks are spending up to two days before they cross the border due to the stringent checks.

Kobo, a freight logistics firm, connects and supports cargo owners, truckers, drivers and importers.

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“The logistics sector has been disrupted by the pandemic and will suffer the sharpest blow. Developing a supply chain response to the coronavirus outbreak is extremely challenging, given the scale of the crisis and the rate at which it is evolving,” Ms Wamunyu told Shipping & Logistics in a phone interview.

She said since road transport plays a crucial role in linking industries with the ports where raw materials are delivered, there is need for quick solutions to the current challenges.

Kenya’s borders with Uganda and Tanzania have been shut, with minimal truck movement. This has led to delays in delivery of goods within the region. Mombasa is the gateway to East African countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, and South Sudan served by the Northern Corridor.

“After countries shut their borders, drivers have faced restrictions which have slowed down operations. We're also anticipating more drop in business to be caused by the drop in imports,” she said.

“To protect truck drivers, physical contact should be limited as much as possible by switching from paper to electronic methods to document pickups and deliveries.

“Ensuring trucks are kept sanitised, providing hand sanitisers and masks for drivers and field agents,” Ms Wamunyu added.

EXPOSED TO RISK

The Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) said there is still a lot of paper work in handling of documents at border points which exposes truck drivers to infection, and called on authorities to ensure this was minimised.

“Early this week drivers were stranded at Namanga (Kenya-Tanzania) and Busia (Kenya-Uganda) border and even as we support the shutting of the borders there should do proper coordination,” said Mercy Ireri, KTA chief operations officer.

“At some point transporters were asked to hire Tanzanian drivers from the border to deliver cargo to the destinations or transfer goods to their trucks which was not practical considering that the trucks and goods would be exposed to risk.”

There is also confusion in the manner directives are being issued by different governments in regard to management of their borders, said William Ojonyo, Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa) former chairman.

Worse still, he said, there is lack of coordination between government agencies and the private sector.

He said “spontaneous” directives being issued without proper consultations would greatly affect supply of essential goods and services.

“When flights are banned they leave the cargo planes to continue operating and trucks to cross the borders.

“There is a need for governments to engage experts in the logistics sector so that we identify the essential goods that should be given priority at the borders so that people are not starved of these supplies,” said Mr Ojonyo, who is also managing director Keynote Logistics Limited.

“Just like containers were invented in 1956 ten years after disruptions of the second World War, we also need to have a conversation and find out how we can effectively ship goods across borders in such a time with zero contact.”

Mr Ojonyo said the Interior and Trade ministries should urgently consult logistics expert to advise on the essential goods that needed to be shipped.

According to the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority observatory dashboard, 4,397 trucks crossed the Mariakani weighbridge, down from 4,657 the previous week, a number that was expected to reduce during the March 11 and 17 week.

At the Malaba border, the average time between issuance of release order and issuance of certificate of export at border crossing between March 11 to March 17 was 80.25 hours, down from 104.30 hours, signaling the small number of trucks that were crossing the border.

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