Kenya and Tanzania’s reluctance to implement the electronic cargo and driver tracking system rolled out this month by the East African Community (EAC) has delayed a regionwide adoption that could help speed up COVID-19 screening at borders, curb further spread of the virus, and facilitate cross-border movement.

The Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System is meant to align all drivers of transit cargo from the port of Dar es Salam, Mombasa, and other Kenya Ports Authority facilities.

It launched July 18, after a May 12 virtual conference on EAC COVID-19 response, during which Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Salva Kiir agreed to adopt the system. The bloc’s deputy secretary-general Christophe Bazivamo has since issued a notice to relevant ministers and member countries, reports show.

The system requires trucking companies to have an account with details of their fleet and authorized personnel uploaded to the platform, while they ensure that drivers and crew in each vehicle have an activated app downloaded on their Android smartphones.

But the ports authority and transporters association of Dodoma and Nairobi, respectively, have resisted implementation with Kenya Transporters Association executive officer Dennis Ombok branding the launch “premature” while noting its drivers had not been trained on the usage of the system.

“The launch is premature as we need some time for training on how to use it,” Ombok was quoted as saying by The EastAfrican. “It involves downloading an app in a smartphone and the one-week piloting is a short time considering most drivers are not conversant with the system while some cannot even use a smartphone effectively.”

Tanzania Ports Authority director-general Deusdedit Kakoko told The EastAfrican Thursday that Dodoma was “not yet prepared to engage its ports operations under the planned system and that was an idea which was earlier raised by the Kenyan government.”

The tracking system is key to the region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After installation, users are to share their coronavirus test results on the platform for easy information exchange along the Central and Northern corridors. The RECDTS will then pass on the results using already existing systems used by revenue and health authorities in the region.

With truck owners or companies onboard the platform, health authorities of a driver’s originating country can be notified in case a truck driver tests positive in another country. An electronic medical certificate is also issued after a cargo crew is tested, which is valid for 14 days and accessible online at screening sites across borders in the region.

The East African region has seen a rise in non-tariff barriers since the ongoing pandemic hit the region in March, arising from mandatory testing at borders to curb the spread of the new coronavirus among long-distance truck drivers in the region. While regional heads expect the online tracking system to help reduce friction, failure to properly install the platform could in itself become a barrier to the movement of goods across the region, Ombok said.

“If they go ahead with it (the electronic tracking system), it will be one of the trade barriers they have introduced since it will take time to align cargo, driver, and truck to the system as it is required before the cargo is taken from any port facility,” the KTA chief warned.

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