Kenya and Tanzania on Friday agreed to reopen their borders after a tense week marked by a simmering trade dispute occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Travel guidelines and restrictions rekindled a festering trade war that has seen both countries impose sanctions on each other and ban trade in certain goods.
Government officials from both countries, who met in Namanga for the better part of Friday, resolved to facilitate a seamless cross-border movement of goods and end the standoff.
Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development Cabinet Secretary James Macharia led a delegation of Kenyan officials to the meeting with the Tanzanian delegation led by Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe.
The bilateral deliberations came after President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Tanzania counterpart President Pombe Magufuli talked over the phone regarding heightened tensions that left traders from both countries staring at huge losses as truck drivers waited for days for results of Covid-19 tests, which are mandatory for them.
It took the delegation six hours to break the stalemate in two stormy boardroom meetings, emerging with a memorandum of understanding.
Both sides were reluctant to cede ground on the procedure for screening truck drivers.
CS Macharia said the two countries must unite to protect their trade interests and address the health concerns of citizens.
“Kenya and Tanzania are trade partners, recording a turnover of more than $500 million (Ksh53 billion) annually. We have reached an agreement that Tanzanian and Kenyan drivers will be subjected to the WHO standard Covid-19 testing in their territories and issued with clearance certificates,” said Mr Macharia.
The CS assured truck drivers of speedy testing once the mobile laboratory is installed on Monday.
“The new mobile laboratory will be up and running from Monday, with a capacity to test between 500 and 600 samples daily. It will only take five hours for a driver to get the results,” he said.
Mr Kamwelwe emphasised the need for seamless transportation of goods. He noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had adversely affected trade between the two countries and urged citizens to support their governments’ efforts.
“Both countries must honour the MOU to enable free movement of goods across the border. Our drivers will only enter Kenya armed with a Covid-19 clearance certificate,” he said.
East African Business Council Executive Director Peter Mathuki said the diplomatic tiff had seen the weekly volume of goods crossing the Namanga border drop to 40 per cent.
“The Namanga one-stop border post remains a strategic entry point for East and Central Africa, but currently we are witnessing an economic disruption. The diplomatic intervention is a positive gesture,” Mr Mathuki said.
There was minimal activity on either side of the border on Friday amid growing uncertainty over the next course of action as the two EAC partners wrangled.
The traffic pile-up involving trucks fizzled out in days, with many abandoning their trips across the border.