President John Magufuli and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta have directed transport ministers and border regional commissioners to convene a meeting to resolve disputes leading to barring of truck drivers seeking to enter Kenyan territory.
Officials at the various border posts were restricting Tanzanian truck drivers having goods directed to Kenyan destinations fearing that they were Covid-19 positive. There are scores of border posts in Mara, Mwanza, Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions.
Addressing a rally in Singida, where he stopped for a while as he journeyed to Dodoma, President Magufuli said that he and President Kenyatta agreed over a phone conversation that ministers responsible should convene a meeting and come up with a solution on how to facilitate continued business operations between the two countries.
President Magufuli asserted that barring truck drivers from entering into either of East African countries was illogical since the countries depend on one another.
“How can all Tanzanian truck drivers test positive for Covid-19? Both countries are entitled to use the border to conduct businesses. The coronavirus should not be a reason to turn us into enemies,” the president remarked.
He called upon leaders of both countries to consider mutual benefits for each country.
Dr Magufuli directed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Wilbert Ibuge, the minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Isack Kamwele and regional commissioners for Mara, Mwanza, Arusha and Kilimanjaro to make sure they meet their Kenyan counterparts within a week.
President Magufuli applauded Singida residents for hard work, urging them to continue working tirelessly for their region’s development.
He urged them to invest much in the agriculture sector especially in food crops.
"Cooperative unions purchasing crops from farmers should make sure that they make payments on time," he emphasized.
The president told Regional Commissioner Dr Rehema Nchimbi to work on a land dispute between Mzee Masoud family and the owner of Al-Azhary secondary school.
On the way, the president also met local residents in Nzega, Tabora region where he promised that the government will continue working on water shortages facing the region.
"There is a huge water project which includes pumping water from Lake Victoria and it is currently on trial. I am happy that Tabora residents have started enjoying water services from this project," he said.
He further urged the general public to continue taking precautionary measures to avoid contracting Covid-19 infections.
Meanwhile, the Arusha-based East African Business Council has called upon member states to recognize the importance of the cargo movers.
“The East African Community Partner States are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit various industry sectors across the region. Truck drivers continue to selflessly deliver essential commodities including food, personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines, as well as raw materials within and across EAC borders,” stated Dr Peter Mathuki, the EABC Executive Director, in a statement.
Dr Mathuki emphasized that truck drivers are among frontline service providers, risking their personal health to keep products moving to stores, hospitals, homes and elsewhere during this emergency.
“Stigmatisation against truck drivers should be frowned upon because once discouraged these persons could call it quits. This may lead to a disruption in the supply chain in the EAC thus impacting trade and investment even more,” warned the EABC.
“The East African Business Council appreciates and recognizes the selfless dedication of truck drivers who are delivering goods to health facilities, factories and consumers. Drivers are essential in the transport and logistics supply chain and in the EAC zone recovery and resilience prospects. They facilitate the movement of transit goods, imports and exports in the region,” he elaborated.
In another development, Arusha region embarked on an exercise to take samples from lorry drivers entering the country from Kenya through the Namanga border post. The samples will be tested for Covid-19 infection before they are allowed in.
Regional Commissioner Mrisho Gambo said in a statement yesterday that that so far 34 such drivers have been tested and from the first 23 batch 10 were found to be infected and 13 tested negative. Results from the second batch of 11 drivers are yet to be released from Dar es Salaam.
It is estimated that total exports from the East African Community to the world at the moment stand at US $14.0 billion per year, while the export share of intra-EAC trade averages at 22 percent of total foreign trade annually, on the basis of a recent EAC Trade and Investment Report.
“The East African Business Council appeals to everyone in the EAC region to embrace our truck drivers and motivate them to continue moving essential goods across EAC borders. This will boost availability of medicines, PPEs and food supplies that are crucial to protecting the health of our citizens and improving food security in the region,” the statement underlined.