By Omara Justin
Kampala – 24, May 2020: Kenya Transport Association (KTA) has asked the governments of Uganda and Kenya to immediately resolve the current impasse at Malaba border to avoid a dangerously high-level risk on the health and safety of both cargo drivers and the local populace.
Truck drivers on Thursday blocked and paralyzed operations at the busy Malaba One-Stop Border Post, protesting against what they termed as “harassment and discrimination” by Ugandan authorities. This led to a traffic jam on the border stretching to a record 50km long.
Early this month, President Yoweri Museveni directed that all truck drivers who test positive for coronavirus at the various border posts should not be allowed to enter Uganda. In observation of this directive, the Ministry of Health now has to collect all samples from Malaba, Mutukula and Elegu border posts.
Denis Ombok, the Chief Executive Officer [CEO] Kenya Transport Association [KTA], says the drivers have genuine concerns and grievances, adding that KTA supports their action of stopping the trucks until their grievances are resolved.
The cargo truck drivers stress that the current situation is “unacceptable” and pose a high health and safety predicament. They outlined six issues they want the Kenyan and Ugandan authorities to address with urgency before they pave way for normal cargo transport operations at the border post:
• There are fuel tankers and other dangerous cargo in the traffic jam.
• The local population is getting agitated.
• The sanitary conditions are pathetic.
• Drivers have no food and water
• Interactions with the local community is going on, meaning coronavirus could spread at a higher rate
• No social distancing or any measures to stop the spread of the virus
Owing to all the above reasons, KTA has called upon authorities in both countries to urgently resolve the issue to avert a potential catastrophe.
On 31 March 2020, President Museveni ordered a two-week lockdown, closing all public places, including schools, tertiary institutions, churches,, mosques markets, shopping malls and public transport, except for cargo trucks.
However, since the first coronavirus case was reported in Uganda on 21 March 2020, mass testing of truck drivers and contacts of positive cases started, with most positive results coming from truck drivers.
Uganda’s Cabinet had agreed that all drivers be tested and allowed to proceed with their journeys while their results are screened and released later on. This prompted a general outcry from Ugandans, asking government to either stop foreign truck drivers from entering Uganda or prohibit them from stopping at any town until they reach their point of delivery.
Early this month, the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Association’s Secretary-General, Nicholas Mbugua complained that Kenyan truck drivers are denied access to basic needs such as food, water, and accommodation once they are in Uganda under a perception that they have coronavirus even after testing negative and allowed to move.
Regional ministers, in charge of health and East African affairs in a meeting on March 25, urged member states to facilitate free movements of goods and services. The East African Community brings together Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan.
According to Uganda’s Ministry of Health, 38 truck drivers tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday and were handed over to their countries of origin for immediate treatment.
Uganda’s Covid-19 confirmed cases stand at 198, Kenya 1,214, Tanzania 509 and Rwanda 325. Uganda still has no Covid-19 related deaths.
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