It takes a bus passenger about two hours to clear with immigration in Katuna (Uganda) and Gatuna (Rwanda) on a less busy day. That is equal to the time a bus, running at an average speed, will spend on the road between Gatuna and Kigali.
Transporters of imports, who happen to have more paperwork to sort out with customs officials, spend even more time (some say days) to cross from one country to another.
As a result, transport costs in East Africa are reportedly among the highest in the world, according to the TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), a not for profit organization that works with governments and civil society organizations to promote regional trade and economic integration in the region.
While there have been previous efforts by the East African Community (EAC) and national revenue bodies aimed at improving across border movement of people and their goods, delays have persisted.
In the latest intervention to deal with the problem, TMEA is implementing a $75 million One Stop Border Post (OSBP) project that will reduce transit costs incurred in moving goods across borders in the region.
How is this project expected to succeed where those before it have had minimum effect on cutting down time wasting? Sjoerd Visser TMEA's director of One Stop Border Post says the objective will be achieved by enabling border agencies in both countries work together.
"The OSBP concept aims to reduce transit costs incurred in cross border movement by combining the activities of both countries' border organizations and agencies at either a single common location or at a single location in each direction without increasing risk to public safety or revenue collection," he says.
That may mean that instead of a passenger or a transporter spending one hour clearing with, say, immigration and customs on the Ugandan said and then cross over to spend another hour on the Rwanda side of the border, all can be done in one place.
"TMEA will do this by conducting infrastructure audits and needs assessment to determine what causes delays at borders and identify ways of reducing cost and time elements by enhancing the use of information technology," he added.
"Many border crossings have antiquated infrastructure, inadequate coordination between the [concerned] two countries and congestion," the World Bank reported.
The fact that the OSBP will cover seven border crossings means that it aims at a complete process that will hopefully eliminate one of the major non-tariff barriers that hinder trade and commerce in the region.
Top on the list is Busia on the Kenya-Uganda border that is arguably the busiest by virtue of being a gateway to the northern corridor that supplies the interior countries like Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and the vast eastern DR Congo. According to a recent statement, work on Busia is on course to completion before the end of the year.
TMEA will is also funding Kagitumba-Mirama Hills (Rwanda/Uganda), Taveta-Holili (Kenya-Tanzania), Mutukula (Tanzania/Uganda), Kobero-Kabanga (Burundi/Tanzania) Tunduma (Tanzania/Zambia) and Elegu/ Nimule (Uganda/South Sudan) border crossings.
Japan recently extended a $30 million funding to support the development of infrastructure for a one-stop border post at Rusumo border. If completed by March, 2014, it will hopefully reduce on the almost eight stop points traders currently have to contend with.
A recent World Bank report said that businesses in the region complain of delays caused by demands for varying and excessive documents from one country to another, insufficient use of information communication technologies as well as lack of coordination between customs bodies and other government agencies. "Many border crossings have antiquated infrastructure, inadequate coordination between the [concerned] two countries and congestion," the World Bank reported.
In order to deal with these issues, TMEA says it will look at the time when tracks and people arrive and exit at borders and then design mechanisms that will simply the process.
With the introduction of Integrated Border Management (IBM)--a mechanism that brings all border agencies to work together by sharing border resources such as inspection and verification sheds. This creates an atmosphere that foster information sharing and cooperation among agencies.
The construction of 3 OSBPs between Kenya and Tanzania (at Taveta/Holili), Tanzania/Uganda (Mutukula) and Kenya/Uganda (Busia) have started and will be delivered between early 2013 to end of 2013.
The designs of 2 OSBPs between Rwanda/Uganda (Kagitumba/Mirama Hills) and Burundi/Tanzania (Kobero/Kabanga) have been finalized with construction starting in early 2013 and ending in 2014.
The design for 2 OSBPs between Tanzania/Zambia (Tunduma/Nakonde) and between Uganda/South Sudan (Elegu/Nimule) will start beginning of 2013, construction will end in 2014/2015.