The Government of Rwanda has formally notified Uganda and Kenya of the sudden decision by Burundi to block cargo trucks entering their country through Rwanda. All Burundi-bound trucks transporting cargo from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, transit through Uganda and Rwanda. However, authorities in Gitega recently decided to block trucks using the Northern Corridor, causing gridlocks at points of entry.
The move has been strongly criticised by freight transporters and the business community in general, especially since it goes against last week's decision by a ministerial meeting from East African Community member states.
The meeting took place in the context of the coronavirus outbreak in EAC member states.
The ministers, who met virtually on March 25, directed all partner states to facilitate continued free movement of goods even as they take measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Rwanda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has now sent Notes Verbales to Kampala and Nairobi, informing them that Kigali has been left with no choice but not to allow in trucks headed for Burundi from the two East African neighbours.
"The Government of the Republic of Burundi is no longer allowing cargo trucks transiting through Rwanda to enter Burundi's territory despite the above-mentioned decision by Ministers of the East African Community," it wrote in part.
"Since Burundi has effectively closed all its borders to cargo transiting through Rwanda, the Government of Rwanda will no longer allow entry on its territory to cargo trucks destined to Burundi."
Burundi's decision has since seen many heavy trucks that had been cleared by Rwanda and Burundi immigration and customs officials (under the One Stop Border Post arrangement) stuck in the no-man's land between Rwanda and Burundi since last week.
The New Times understands that efforts by truck drivers and merchandise owners to negotiate with Burundian authorities to allow in the goods have remained futile.
At Nemba One Stop Border Post in Bugesera District, of the three freight trucks which failed to get clearance to enter Burundi since March 28, two (both with Ugandan registration numbers) were offloaded and then goods loaded onto Burundian trucks while the third, with a Kenyan registration number, was yet to be cleared by Tuesday, March 31.
At Ruhwa border post in Rusizi, two cargo tracks had been denied entry since Friday.
At Akanyaru-Haut, two trucks were stranded at the Rwandan side of the border, as cargo owners tried to negotiate with Burundian authorities for entry.
As a result of this blockade, at least eight trucks destined for Burundi have been parked at the no-man's land at Mirama-Hills border post between Rwanda and Uganda since March 29.
Meanwhile, Rwanda on Tuesday allowed six Burundian nationals who had been stranded at Akanyaru border post to return to Rwanda after their own government denied them entry.
According to immigration officials, the Burundians were denied entry to their country on March 27.
"They had been stranded at the Burundian side of the no-man's land without food or shelter waiting for authorities the other side of the border to allow them in," said an immigration officer on Tuesday.
The Burundian nationals include a family of five, one of whom had been in Rwanda for cancer treatment, and one man, who transited through Rwanda from Kenya on March 25, 2020.
Tharcienne Hashazinka has for months been living in Rwanda where she was attending to her son who was undergoing cancer treatment from Butaro Cancer Centre.
She is with the son (patient), a two year old baby, her brother who was helping her with the children, and a nanny.
For five days, they remained at the no-man's land without basic services like food and shelter, and efforts by Hashazinka's husband, who according to sources is a Burundian police officer, to process them through had been futile.
"They have been allowed back into Rwanda on humanitarian grounds and they will be quarantined in a hostel on the premises of the University of Rwanda Huye Campus," said an official from immigration.
According to the official, the quarantine was necessary because of the fact that these individuals had been interacting with people in the no-man's land where they were stranded, which may have exposed them to the coronavirus.
Burundi's decision to deny entry to returning nationals is also against the resolutions of last week's EAC ministerial meeting.
The meeting directed governments of all partner states to "coordinate their citizens who may have been affected by the closure of borders and to enable them to move to their final destination in the EAC region."
As part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, many EAC countries are currently under full or partial lockdown.