Rwandan cross-border transporters are bleeding money as the impasse over Covid-19 testing of drivers continues to drag the movement of goods from the port of Dar es salaam.
At the centre of the impasse is Tanzanian authorities’ decision not to accept Covid-19 certificates from Rwanda, preferring to carry out their own tests. This would be fine but the results take between four to seven days, delaying delivery and increasing costs.
Now Rwanda-bound trucks are queuing for days as Tanzanian authorities carry out COVID-19 tests. Rwanda too does not accept Tanzanian COVID-19 certificates presented by Tanzanian truck drivers.
Transporters and the Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF) read retaliation in the rejection of Rwandan COVID-19 certificates by Tanzanian authorities, which other countries like Uganda and Kenya are accepting, because of the measures Rwanda has put in place.
At the height of the cross border COVID-19 infections attributed to truckers, Rwanda established the Kiyanzi logistics platform to conduct Covid-19 tests for all truckers coming into the country, and introduced the driver swap system, which Tanzania was not happy about.
Whiff of retaliation
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry Michel Sebera, said they are aware of the difficulties Rwandan truck drivers are facing in Tanzania, where the delays to clear Rwandan cargo has attracted high demurrages and other costs.
“We continue to negotiate with both Tanzanian and Kenyan authorities to release the containers and waive charges.
“We have written to them officially but we are yet to hear from Tanzania. We have even sent our representatives there,” he said.
Regarding the accusations of sabotage and retaliation, Mr Sebera said, “It is clear they are using a number of delaying techniques, and they are retaliating to the measures Rwanda took including Kiyanzi which were meant to control the spread of Covid-19, but they have to know that the decisions Rwanda took were endorsed at the EAC level.”
“Testing on the Tanzanian side is taking between four and seven days, there’s a slight movement now but things are still bad,” said Joseph Akumuntu, the director of Rwanda Chamber of Commerce at PSF and head of the petroleum sector.
He said although the issue of the costly delays of Rwandan trucks to and from Kenya also still persists on the Kenya-Ugandan border of Malaba, partly because Uganda introduced testing fees, at least Rwandan certificates are accepted.
“The testing of Rwandan truckers in Tanzania is not so much about safety, it is to push the government to remove the Kiyanzi stop,” he noted.
Mr Akumuntu said for the delays at Malaba, Rwanda asked to be given two queues, one for those with certificates and the other for those without, but this has not yet been granted, hence the persistent delays.
Abdul Ndaru, a logistics operator and president of the Rwanda Transporters Association, shares similar sentiments, and says the issues they are facing now are beyond Covid-19. He says some measures by neighbouring countries were instituted to settle scores for some of Rwanda’s political and logistical decisions.
“For Tanzanian trucks coming from Dar es Salaam to Rwanda there is no problem at all, they are loaded quickly and are fast, importers are now even choosing Tanzanian or Kenyan trucks,” he said.
The stalemate has morphed into a multi-country boycott of Rwandan trucks and transporting of Rwanda destined goods.
Kenyan truck owners are said to be avoiding goods destined for Rwanda, for fear of delays and high costs, leaving Rwandan importers and truck owners suffering losses.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Joseph Mudenge opted for the Kenya route for his imports. He received at least four trucks of goods in a month, but now he only receives one truck.
“The costly delays forced me to abandon Tanzania and I decided to get my goods from Kenya, but many truckers in Kenya are now refusing to handle cargo destined for Rwanda. We don’t know what to do” he said. Most affected are cement traders. With expensive imports from Kenya or no imports at all, there has been a sharp cement scarcity in the country with a 50-kilogram bag now retailing at Rwf13,000 ($13.6), the highest.