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Economy

Truck drivers want Uganda services halted in Covid row

truck drivers
One of the truck drivers stuck in a traffic gridlock on the road to Malaba border point on May 27. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI 

A union representing long-distance truck drivers has called for the suspension of services to Uganda, putting at stake up to 70 percent of transit cargo at the Mombasa port.

Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Union general-secretary Nicholas Mbugua said the 34,000 members would withhold their services until officials addressed stigma and harassment in the enforcement of Covid-19 containment measures.

“There is no safety agreement reached so between Kenya and Uganda ... and yet drivers are being coerced by police officers to cross over to Uganda. We demand to be guaranteed the safety of our drivers in Uganda,” said Mr Mbugua who was accompanied by Central Organisation of Trade Union officials.

Uganda is the top destination for Mombasa port’s transit cargo and accounts for seven in every 10 containers ordered via Kenya’s seaport by traders from neighbouring states.

An average of 1,200 truck drivers cross into Uganda through Malaba every daily while 800 others enter the landlocked country through the Busia border in any normal day.

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Kenyan truckers have over the last one month locked horns with Ugandan authorities over a raft of measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19.

They have particularly complained of discrimination at Uganda’s eateries and lodgings.

The showdown has in recent weeks led to a long queue of stranded trucks stretching up to 50km from Malaba board.

Transport secretary James Kamau said on Wednesday there was a bilateral understanding that drivers who arrive at the border with Covid-19 clearance certificates would be allowed to pass.

“The understanding is that if any driver has any problem with Uganda, he should not start the journey in the first place,” he said.

According to Mr Mbugua, however, the stigma against the truckers has extended to county governments that are also warning drivers against stopping in towns within their territories.

“Let the devolved units give our truck drivers cordial support instead of suspending usual stopovers. The same truck drivers are the ‘engines’ that run the economy of these towns,” said Mr Mbugua.

The union has called for urgent intervention of government officials to resolve the issue with their Ugandan counterparts. A handful of drivers have since stopped at Mlolongo fearing to proceed with their journey to Uganda.

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