Details of Magufuli-Uhuru phone call amid friction between Kenya, Tanzania over coronavirus stance

By Brian Okoth On Wed, 20 May, 2020 17:03 | 3 mins read
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and his Tanzanian counterpart John Pombe Magufuli (R). [PHOTO | K24 DIGITAL]
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and his Tanzanian counterpart John Pombe Magufuli (R). [PHOTO | K24 DIGITAL]
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    On Saturday, May 16, President Kenyatta announced the closure of its borders with Somalia and Tanzania to stem further spread of coronavirus.

Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli says he and his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, have agreed to ease friction arising from the two countries’ decisions to shut their respective borders, consequently prohibiting citizens of the two nations from crossing into each other’s territories.

On Saturday, May 16, President Kenyatta announced the closure of its borders with Somalia and Tanzania to stem further spread of coronavirus.

The president’s decision came after tens of Tanzanian truck drivers seeking to enter Kenya via the Namanga border tested positive for coronavirus.

“If we do not take additional precautionary measures and get even more serious in implementing existing guidelines, the number of people who will get sick and die is going to rise sharply,” said President Kenyatta, announcing that the restriction will last 30 days.

The decree, which came into effect on May 16 midnight, does not affect cargo vehicles. President Kenyatta, however, directed that Tanzanian truck drivers must undergo mandatory COVID-19 screening at the border points.

A section of Tanzanian leaders, seemingly, took issue with the Kenyan Head of State’s remarks, interpreting his move as one meant to punish Tanzanian truckers and citizens by curtailing their economic activities.

On Monday, May 18, Tanga Regional Commissioner Martine Shidela announced an indefinite ban on cargo drivers from Kenya in an escalated response to President Kenyatta’s Saturday directive.

“I direct authorities that as from today (Monday, May 18), they should not allow any truckers coming from Kenya to enter our country, we cannot allow them to continue shipping the virus into our country,” said Shidela.   

“Tanzanians who have tried crossing the border to Kenya are really facing challenges, do not bother going there anymore to buy items,” he added.

The Tanzanian official added that goods from his country to Kenya will also be offloaded at the border points, from where they will be picked by their Kenyan owners.

Shidela further stated that trucks from Kenya heading to other countries in the south such as Malawi, Zambia, DRC through Tanzania will, however, be allowed entry provided they are not driven by Kenyans.

The directive by the Tanzanian official came after Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Dr. Rashid Aman announced that 51 Tanzanian nationals were denied entry into the country after testing positive for COVID-19 at various border points.

And, following the resultant strife between the two states, Presidents Kenyatta and Magufuli had a phone conversation, in which they agreed to work seamlessly.

“Kenyans are our friends. There are Masaai people in Kenya and Tanzania. There are Luo-speaking people in Kenya and Luo-speaking people in Tanzania. Both countries also share Kuria-speaking people, among other ethnic compositions,” said President Magufuli while addressing residents of Singida on Wednesday, May 20. He was on his way to Dodoma from Chato, Geita region, when he made a stop-over in Singida.

“Coronavirus should not be the cause of a rift between Kenya and Tanzania. Kenya’s president, Kenyatta, and I agreed that our respective ministers for transport and regional commissioners will meet each other.

“On our side, we are talking about the regional commissioners of Mwanza, Mara, Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Tanga. The five will meet their Kenyan counterparts (county commissioners of Taita-Taveta, Kwale, Kajiado and Migori) sit around a table, discuss how they can work together to ease friction between the two countries. We (Tanzanians) need to do business in Kenya, they also need to trade with us,” said President Magufuli.

“Coronavirus should not drive a wedge between Kenya and Tanzania. There is no way every Tanzanian driver who sets foot in Kenya is coronavirus positive.

“We now let the two countries’ transport ministers and regional commissioners to meet and iron out any possible differences. The conflict between Tanzania and Kenya is negligible. We shouldn’t stop Kenyan truck drivers from entering Tanzania, and Kenya should not block our drivers from accessing the country.

“Leaders in charge of our borders — from Tanzania end and Kenya side — should find a way of working together, the same way President Kenyatta and I have reached an agreement.

“Truck drivers shouldn’t waste five days on the border points waiting to be tested for coronavirus.

“Our economic activities, as African nations, shouldn’t be stopped because of coronavirus.

“We want Kenyans to buy onions from Singida, we want them to buy milk from us. That is how we can build our respective economies.”

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