Tanzania: Traders' Agony As Tanzania, Kenya Feud Over Lorries

(file photo).

Traders in Tanzania and Kenya are likely to feel more pain as the two neighbours wrangle over lorries ferrying goods across their common border.

Until yesterday members of the business community were still worried persisting contradictions would further ruin their fortunes. Yesterday, Kenya's High Commissioner to Tanzania, Mr Dan Kazungu, joined the fray when he said the two countries should unite against the coronavirus and not against one another. The envoy was apparently reacting to a shock decision announced by the Tanga Regional Commissioner Martine Shigela on Monday restricting movement of Kenyan commercial vehicles across the common border.

The two neighbours appeared to lock horns on the issue, especially after Kenya announced over the weekend it was closing its border with Tanzania and Somalia to curb the spread of the virus.

Mr Kazungu said although lorry drivers across the vast East African Community (EAC) bloc are seen as source of the fast spread of Covid-19, Kenya does not want this to strain relations.

"President Uhuru Kenyatta has sent me here to convey a message of peace and unity. Tanzania is more than just a neighbour to Kenya," he told journalists in Dar es Salaam.

Mr Kazungu said instead of fiddling over who was the source of the pandemic or not doing the needed to contain the virus, the two countries should unite to fight the common enemy.

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Tanzania and Kenya are the two largest economies in the bloc and have more official border crossings to neighbours than the rest of the EAC partner states - Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan - combined.

On Monday, in what appeared could have flared into a worst diplomatic spat between the two countries in recent days, Mr Shigela restricted Kenyan lorries from crossing into Tanzania through the Horohoro border post.

The move, according to him, came after 19 Kenyan lorry drivers tested positive for the coronavirus after being screened at the facility.

As the key border linking Tanga and the Kenyan coast city of Mombasa remained closed, small traders appeared to be the main losers as the businesses came to a halt.

Those interviewed, including Ms Mwanakombo Ama, said they used to peddle goods from one country to another but now - being Tanzanians - they are not to enter the Kenyan soil.

She appealed to President John Magufuli and his Kenyan counterpart to meet and see how they can reopen the common border to enable ordinary people conduct their normal income generating activities.

Among those hard hit by the border closure are currency changers who thrived on continuous cross border movement of people from one side of the border to another.

It was the same case at Taveta open air market in Kenya where scores of businessmen and women expressed their on the closure of the common border between the two states.

Ms Teddy Urio, a second hand clothes trader, said she has lost hope because she could not cross border into the neighbouring country. She used to travel to the Taveta market at least twice a week.

Ms Rahel Moiso from Holili Township in Rombo District said she used to sell 60 litres of milk everyday at the Kenyan market. "I cannot be paid now because I am not allowed to cross the border," she told The Citizen.

In Mara Region, the regional authorities have ordered lorry drivers from Kenya entering the Sirari border post to off load their cargo and hand over to the drivers in the Tanzanian side to ferry them to the final lap.

This was announced yesterday by the Mara Regional Commissioner Adam Malima during his visit to one of the busiest border towns on the Tanzania/Kenya boundary.

He said the relay system in cargo trucking across the border would go alongside the screening of drivers from both sides to establish whether they had contracted Covid-19.

As the border spat between Tanzania and Kenya appeared to mellow down, members of the business community In Arusha have warned leaders of the two countries to avoid minor contractions that can impair socioeconomic ties.

They instead implored on the government officials on the two sides to dialogue whenever an acrimonious matter arose in order to foster cordial relations and business.

"We are in the EAC. We must have a common thinking, common policies and common mechanisms to address challenges at our common borders," said Mr Simon Mapolu, a consultant.

"We should go to the drawing board. EAC was created for economic integration. Why block movement of people and goods across the borders?" he asked.

Mr Mapolu said while Kenya was a major market for the fresh agricultural produce from Tanzania such as fruits, maize, beans and livestock products, 80 per cent of merchandise in Arusha supermarkets were from there.

Mr Said Chiguma of Dar es Salaam-based Chimba Attorneys said instead of wasting time on 'minor contradictions' the two countries should forge stronger links.

"We depend on each other rather than opposed to each other. Let us stop politicking and move forward by harmonising our systems," he said.

Reported by Zephania Ubwani and Filbert Rweyemamu in Arusha; Mpoki Thomson in Dar es Salaam; Burhani Yakub in Tanga; Beldina Nyakeke in Musoma and Florah Temba in Moshi

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