Crossing national borders in the East African Community is almost a punishment for those wishing to travel simply because there are no common protocols on COVID 19. It is very demanding and almost impossible for citizens who either want to do business or be tourists across national borders due to the application of obscure requirements related to COVID-19.
The responsible ministries in each country and the EAC need to move and create the necessary trust and harmonization of the COVID-19 protocols across the region in order to affect regional trade and travel and to minimize further disruption. Retail has already picked up speed and unnecessary bottlenecks need to be re-examined.
I am consciously saying this that The EAC Secretariat has made efforts to improve the capacity of staff at the eight international airports in the region to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19, with an emphasis on strengthening surveillance, building robust early warning systems and the Coordinating public health action is to prevent, detect and respond to the pandemic. Why the different approaches and the mistrust worry and cost the citizens in the region.
Each country appears to have individual protocols which in many cases are urgent or overwhelming for travelers, making COVID-19 a reason not to travel, which is frustrating for traders in the area. Regional trade blockades are particularly important for food security in the region, as climate change has adverse effects in the region with droughts, famines and low agricultural yields. In the beginning it was a huge burden for truck drivers to move across borders, the money in the different countries, the multiple irritation of the medical COVID-19 tests at every national border and the fear is too much for the people.
A person takes a COVID-19 test in Kenya for $ 90 and, for example, travels to Tanzania within 72 hours. Upon arrival in Tanzania, she must take a rapid COVID-19 test and wait for results for USD 25, and if she stays in Tanzania for more than 96 hours, she must take another test upon leaving which will allow her entry into Kenya . That’s three tests at $ 140 in almost four days. Imagine the invasive insertion of the wires up the nose and throat of the guys who are either traveling as tourists or on business? Until 6the June 2021, the trip to Ethiopia required the test in Kenya and a 14-day quarantine in Addis at the traveler’s expense – this has since been revised and the requirements changed, as long as you have a negative COVID-19 test from your country of origin in approved AU facilities.
The Regional Development and Cooperation Strategy (RDCS), USAID / Kenya and East Africa (USAID / KEA) states that to protect communities from the occurrence and spread of infectious diseases, regional health and cross-sectoral systems have been strengthened and cross-border cooperation has been strengthened must be increased, including facilitating the exchange of health information across borders and transport corridors, and sustainable funding of health systems that deal with migrant population management.
In a report recently published by TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) entitled “Waving or drowning? The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on East African Trade “, it was found that intra-regional trade suffered severe disruption initially but quickly recovered as partner countries ensured the flow of essential goods and took measures to minimize disruption on major transport corridors in compliance with COVID-19 health protocols.
AERC Executive Director Professor Njuguna Ndungu noted that “The emergence of COVID-19 shock waves in emerging new sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and financial intermediation, undermining the recovery. Several indicators from different studies seem to suggest that African economies could experience significant economic contractions due to the pandemic. The full impact on livelihoods has yet to be determined, however, as uncertainty about the behavior and intensity of the pandemic is still unfolding. “
TMEA CEO Frank Matsaert said; “Data from this research informs us about the important role trade facilitation plays in the regional economy. We need to step up trade facilitation efforts to fuel innovation, and we urge the government to incentivize priority goods to save lives. “
The director of UNECA in East Africa, Dr. Mama Keita said,, “Given the potential of trade to promote economic growth and sustainable development, it is extremely important for us to study closely the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade in East Africa. This report sends important messages, in particular the urgent need to diversify countries’ economies and export bases if they are to be more resilient to external shocks and to experience strong and sustained growth rates in the future ”.
CEO of the East Africa Business Community Dr. Peter Mutuku Mathuki, The government of the EAC partner states should give priority to vaccinations for truck drivers, implement a regionally coordinated approach to combating the pandemic and harmonize test fees in order to shorten freight times. “
The report found that the transport and logistics sector suffered at the beginning of the crisis with high congestion at borders and ports. Immediately after the eruption, the ship lingers in the port of Mombasa 48% increased and lay time increased by 52%. The transit of goods from the port of Mombasa to Malaba (the border between Kenya and Uganda) increased from 7 days to 11 days by the second quarter of 2020. The transport time for goods on the Mombasa-Busia route was almost three times as long. On the central corridor, the transit time from Dar-es-Salaam to various cities in neighboring countries has almost doubled. The significant increase in transit times illustrates the challenges at the border points. Another major victim of the crisis was informal cross-border trade, which, even after the opening of the borders, found it difficult to recover from the regional restrictions on cross-border travel. For example, the analysis of Uganda data in the report suggests that even the reopening of Uganda’s borders in September 2020 did not revive informal cross-border trade. The resulting effects include loss of income in border communities and a reversal of economic empowerment for women.
The author is Deputy CEO of the Media Council of Kenya.