East African neighbors Rwanda and Tanzania have reached an agreement that puts an end to the impasse between long-distance truck drivers and authorities at the border, one of the many fallouts across the region triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

To curb the spread of the virus through long-haul truck drivers moving goods across the region, after reporting a surge in new cases traced to drivers, Kigali employed mandatory tests of truckers at its borders – mainly at the Rusumo border with Tanzania.

It also mandated a relay system – similar to Uganda’s proposition to Kenya – that would see Tanzanian drivers hand over their trucks to Rwanda’s, an idea the former rejected. An ensuing strike left more than 1,000 trucks destined for Rwanda stuck at a Tanzanian border town.

Delegations from both countries in a virtual bilateral meeting have now agreed to remove the proposed swapping of drivers at Rusumo border “with immediate effect,” Rwanda said at the weekend. Under the deal, goods entering Kigali will be “offloaded or transhipped at entry point, except for trucks carrying perishable goods and petroleum products.”

Truck drivers will also have to undergo mandatory testing at the starting point and facilitated by Tanzania, to prevent further spread of COVID-19, in line with East African Community guidelines to tackle the trans-border spread of the disease while minimizing disruptions to regional trade. The new measures also apply to truck drivers from Kenya, who have also suspended transporting cargo to Rwanda. 

Kenya meanwhile has shut its borders with Tanzania and Somalia to stem further spread of the coronavirus, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Saturday, in what is an unprecedented move in the entire history of the EAC’s 20-year existence. More stringent measures are expected to be put in place after it was discovered that some of the infections recorded in Nairobi had crossed the border from Dodoma and Mogadishu.

The decree, which came into effect on Saturday at midnight, does not affect cargo vehicles. Although the embargo came as Kenya said it had blocked 78 truck drivers from Tanzania from entering the country.

Unilateral decisions to block cross border movement of people and goods in the regional bloc reflects the struggles of member states –  Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan – to have a common policy on limiting the spread of COVID-19 while allowing free movement of goods. The pandemic has at different points since its inception threatened relations and trade among the regional neighbors.

As of Tuesday, Kenya had the highest number of infections in the region with 912 confirmed coronavirus cases, followed by Tanzania with 509, Rwanda (297), South Sudan (290), Uganda had 260, and Burundi with 42.

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