30 July 2018

East Africa: Porous Somalia Border Costing Kenya $20 Million Yearly

The closure of the Kenya-Somalia border in Mandera at the height of insecurity five years ago could be costing the country at least Ksh2 billion ($20 million) annually, as smugglers have a field day sneaking substandard goods in and out the country.

The Kenya Revenue Authority, immigration and Kenya Bureau of Standards offices at the border post are deserted, with the walls dotted with bullet holes.

This has allowed smuggling to thrive, with local traders saying the goods from Mogadishu and Kismayu ports are relatively cheaper since they are not taxed and their quality is not tested.

The porous border is 360 kilometres long, and efforts by the Kenya government to stop movements between the two countries have not borne fruit. A border wall meant to curb insecurity is still under construction.

The border post, which was built in 1981 and "rehabilitated in 2009" is home to goats and dogs. The staff quarters for Customs officials are also deserted by non-locals due to fear of raids by Al Shabaab fighters.

Unregulated trade

According to Mandera Governor Ali Roba, the country is losing at least Ksh 2 billion ($20 million) per year due to unregulated cross-border business, that also exposes the country to importation of contrabands.

"If this border was open, we could control quality and also get revenue for the national government and county government," said Mr Roba.

On the Kenya-Ethiopia Suftu border, it is a different story. River Dawa is busy as traders transport their goods on rafts.

Kenyan traders transport bottled water, sugar and timber to Ethiopia, while Ethiopians transport onions, cement and other farm produce to Mandera, where distributors transport them to other parts of the country including Nairobi.

Unlike the Kenya-Somalia border, Mandera County revenue officers collect revenue from traders.

Traders using donkey carts part with Ksh500 ($5) to be cleared by county revenue officers to access markets in Mandera town.

Hassan Mohamed, a local trader says the cross-border business is a source of revenue and offers employment to the youth who ride the rafts across River Dawa.

The goods from Ethiopia are also cheaper. For example, a bag of cement costs Ksh800 ($8) compared with Ksh 1,200 ($12) for the same amount produced in Kenya.

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