The long queue of trucks that had parked at the Malaba border points in Eastern Uganda has now reduced to cover a distance of 40 kilometers from the initial 70-kilometers stretch.
The truck pile-up at the Uganda-Kenya border started two weeks ago following Uganda’s proposed review of the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), which allows COVID-19 testing after 14 days, to a shorter duration of seven days due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
As part of the change in policy, truckers were supposed to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing which sparked a protest from drivers who parked their vehicles and blocked off the roads demanding that Uganda streamline its COVID-19 testing protocols in line with other EAC countries.
The Drivers were charged shs 100,000 or 30 US Dollars for each test.
But they rejected the charges, throwing into limbo, all the states that rely on the Northern Corridor transit route for imports and exports.
They demanded that Uganda eliminate the COVID-19 test charges or do away with the mandatory testing like the other EAC states.
While the dispute raged, there was a spike in fuel prices with a litre of petrol going for as high as shs 10,000 in some places
The Ugandan government later abandoned the policy and said it will conduct free rapid COVID-19 testing as part of measures to clear the backlog.
The government also announced that negative results from national accredited laboratories in the respective member states would be recognized and asked authorities to implement an EAC Health Pass to enable quick verification of COVID-19 test certificates and vaccination status to ease movement of trucks into the country.
Officials at the Malaba Border Post have said that they have intensified their operations in order to clear the backlog created by the protest.
Dr Choudhry Okula, the in-charge of Malaba Port Health said that they are clearing on average 700 trucks every day.
Records show that 2,732 trucks were cleared between January 14 and January 17, 2022.
Dr Okula, however, adds that the process has been affected by a change in staff at the Kenyan side of the border
Emmanuel Otim, the Border Internal Security Officer said that the deployment of more senior staff at the border has helped to quicken the process of clearing the trucks.
But truckers on both Malaba and Busia borders say that the delays have affected their businesses, spending more days on the road than earlier anticipated.
Before the snarl-up, the drivers would take not more than a week on a trip from Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, South Sudan and Burundi.
But they are into the third week now, without making any progress.
They say that even after omitting the charges, the slow pace of COVID testing and clearance of cargo is causing a huge jam.
Initial reports indicated that the jam stretched for over 130 kilometres from Malaba border town to Lwandeti market in Kakamega County, on the Kenyan side for trucks that were waiting for clearance to enter Uganda.
Mohamed Noor, a fuel truck driver said that it took him seven days to reach Malaba border from Eldoret in Kenya, a journey that would previously take only three hours.
He added that even after being cleared at the border, he can’t proceed with the journey because of the heavy traffic on the road.
Abubaker Hassan Bwata, a truck driver from Kenya says that he spent six days before entering Uganda, and wondered why Ugandan authorities would insist on testing people who had negative PCR tests from a country within the same bloc.
Kevin Wasonga, another truck driver says that even if the mandatory COVID-19 testing at the border has been withdrawn by the Ugandan government, some of the drivers are still hesitant to enter the country.