Arusha — The 106 kilometers' long journey from the Namanga border town to Arusha City is currently proving to be nightmare for local passengers, foreign tourists and drivers of the shuttle buses connecting the two destinations.
Throughout the voyage, the drivers complain of being subjected to a series of inspections, foul language and unnecessary delays in the hands of police officers who are alleged to do everything possible to inconvenience travelers and shuttle operators using the route. Only last week the tourism Minister, Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki made a surprise visit at Namanga border where he discovered a number of horrible things suffered by visitors entering Tanzania from Kenya through this Northern Border post but it has just come to light that the border nightmare doesn't end at the border post but extends along the highway to Arusha.
"We suffer inconveniences, delays and other unnecessary bureaucracy along the Arusha-Namanga route where police officers have taken to harass shuttle bus drivers for no good reason," explains Mr Hassan Ahmed who works for the Rainbow Shuttle Services. "Our passengers, vehicles and goods are always inspected thoroughly at Namanga Border but after leaving the border, police officers dotting the road keep waving us down demanding to conduct repeated checks," added Mr Ahmed.
As far as Mr Ahmed is concerned; "the authorities need to decide which check points should be used for such tasks, if it is Namanga then let it be so and if inspections are to be conducted at Longido let us know, because right now we (drivers of shuttle buses) are getting confused. Another Shuttle Driver, Mr Lomaiyan Reuben who works for the Riverside Shuttle Company of Arusha has similar concerns.
"We always take with us the official lists of passengers who are on board. Our buses, passengers and luggage are thoroughly checked and inspected at Namanga Border both on Tanzanian and Kenyan sides, by immigration, customs and the border police." "But surprisingly on our way to Arusha, we get stopped again and this happens after every 20 kilometers where we keep meeting roadblocks and subjected to hassles of taking down passenger baggage for checking and this not only waste time, but also make foreign visitors to be wary, scared and think twice before touring Tanzania again," said Mr Reuben.
"There is nothing wrong in inspecting vehicles that cross the border to Tanzania and in fact we support inspection at Namanga for security purposes but when the same procedure keeps being repeated along the route it becomes a hassle and people start suspecting loopholes to corruption," said the driver.
Mr Reuben is on view that Shuttle buses as well as all vehicles crossing at Namanga should be provided with an official letter at the border to indicate that the particular vehicle and its passengers have been inspected instead of forcing drivers to stop in the middle of nowhere for repeated checks. Mr Joseph Kalaghe also works for the Riverside Shuttle Services and he feels that the highway harassment of passengers and drivers is working against Tanzania's image as peaceful country.
"I always feel bad and ashamed whenever my passengers, especially innocent foreigners are forced to have their luggage taken off the bus along the road before being subjected to crude inspections and frisking by heavily armed policemen, even after undergoing official procedures at the border," said Mr Kalaghe. He said some foreign tourists have even been asking him if the country was at war.
Vehicles with Kenyan plate numbers seem to be more susceptible to police harassment after they cross into Tanzania; "And if the local police think it is us who suffer, then they are wrong, the police are doing injustice to their own country's image," said Mr Nicholus Mzambia who works for the Nairobi-based, Jamii Shuttle Company of Kenya.
According to Mzambia, much of the luggage being carried by the shuttle buses are tied on rooftop carriers and tightly secured with tarpaulins. It may take over an hour to untie the canvasses, take the goods down and up again which is a waste of precious time.
"And unlike us, foreign tourists are very sensitive with time, some of them would be connecting to national parks for game driven safaris and others rushing to catch their planes but the police officers who are not very much exposed, seem not to be unaware of this," he said.
Roadblocks are among the most irking forms of non-tariff barriers dotting the transport and communication sectors in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, the five countries currently working to establish a single trading bloc through their East African Community.