Slow Covid testing blamed for major cargo trucks snarl-up

Trucks

P.9 Trucks caught up in an endless snarl-up on the Eldoret-Malaba highway on January 17, 2022. Slow Covid-19 testing at the Malaba border in Busia County has been blamed for the traffic jam that started three weeks ago, and that has now snaked into Bungoma and Kakamega counties.

Photo credit: Brian Ojamaa | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The gridlock has persisted despite last week’s decision by the Ugandan government to suspend a Covid-19 testing fee of Sh3,600.
  • Truckers blamed the slow pace of testing at the border on too few health staff on the Kenyan side.

Slow Covid-19 testing at the Malaba border has been blamed for the huge traffic jam that has now stretched 70 kilometres into Kenya.

The snarl-up that started three weeks ago from the border town in Busia County has built up through neighbouring Bungoma and as at yesterday had passed Lwandeti market in Kakamega County.

The gridlock has persisted despite last week’s decision by the Ugandan government to suspend a Covid-19 testing fee of Sh3,600. Uganda had introduced the fee in late December for all truckers at the border.
Introduction of the fee led to a strike by the truckers who claimed it was discriminatory and exploitative.

A meeting was then called by the East African Community officials to seek a solution. The truck drivers leaving Kenya for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan then called off the strike on Tuesday last week, after 11 days.

Yesterday, truckers blamed the slow pace of testing at the border on too few health staff on the Kenyan side.

Mr Mohamed Salem, a truck driver ferrying petroleum from Eldoret to Tororo, said introducing Covid-19 rapid tests and deploying more health workers could help speed up the process.

“This jam is now in its third week, yet we knew it would soon be over after the Ugandan government heeded our demands,” he said.

The driver said the snarl-up, which, he said, only eases at night, had subjected them to untold suffering, including spending sleepless nights as they watch over merchandise.

Untested drivers

Mr Nelson Mureithi, another truck driver ferrying goods from Mombasa to Kampala, said their impatient colleagues who attempted to jump queue were attacked.

“On Sunday evening, we had an incident where about five drivers who tried to overlap were attacked by other drivers and beaten up seriously. Three were rushed to Webuye County Hospital,” he said. “We also have drivers relieving themselves under the trucks because of lack of toilets.”

Webuye West MP Dan Wanyama said residents of Bungoma were at risk of contracting Covid-19 due to the jam as untested drivers interact with locals.

“We want President Kenyatta to speak with his Ugandan counterpart to see the stalemate is resolved,” the MP said.

The Malaba station normally clears between 600 and 1,000 cargo trucks every day.

Only truckers with valid Covid-19 negative test certificates are allowed to cross into Uganda.

Those with expired certificates are required to be tested at the border before entry.

Truckers who test positive for the respiratory disease are often isolated.

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