Kenya-Tanzania Covid-19 testing row takes another turn

By Susan Kogi On Thu, 21 May, 2020 12:50 | 2 mins read
Namanga border
The Namanga border. PHOTO | COURTESY

Even before the start of talks to iron out Tanzania-Kenya border issues, the Arusha Regional Commissioner, Mrisho Gambo, has thrown a spanner in the works.

The Tanzania regional commissioner on Wednesday, the same day President Uhuru Kenyatta and John Magufuli agree on teams to iron out issues, claimed that Tanzanian truck drivers confirmed positive on the Kenyan side had been re-tested in Tanzania where the result came back negative.

Mr. Gambo made the claim in a statement in which he sought to explain the border tussle with Kenya after the truck drivers were blocked at Namanga border for testing positive for Covid-19, according to The Citizen.

However, Mr Gambo said that their drivers’ samples tested negative after they were re-tested in Tanzania, raising questions about either the quality of the testing kits or spreading of false information amidst cross-border tiff.

The Tanzanian administrator said on May 12, samples of 44 truck drivers arriving into Tanzania through the Namanga border were tested for Covid-19, with 13 drivers testing positive.

Eleven of the 13 were Kenyan drivers, a Ugandan and another case whose nationality has been withheld, he said.

The Arusha Regional Commissioner also quoted another instance where samples of 23 truck drivers were tested on May 16, and ten Kenyan drivers tested positive for the novel coronavirus as the rest tested negative.

“Arusha will continue to take precautions to prevent Covid-19 infections from spreading through our border at Namanga,” he said in a statement.

Mr Gambo claimed that the move by Kenya to restrict movement in and out of the border could be a tactic to cripple Tanzania’s tourism industry when the season resumes in June.

On May 16, President Kenyatta announced the closure of its borders with Somalia and Tanzania to stem further spread of coronavirus with an exception of cargo vehicles where Tanzanian truck drivers must undergo mandatory COVID-19 screening at the border points.

However, on Wednesday, May 20, Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli said he had agreed with President Uhuru Kenyatta to set up a team led by Trade ministers to settle the border tiff.

“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. The conflict is negligible. We shouldn’t stop Kenyan truck drivers from entering Tanzania, and Kenya should not block our drivers from accessing the country.

“Our economic activities, as African nations, shouldn’t be stopped because of coronavirus,” said President Magufuli while addressing residents of Singida.

Meanwhile, the border-row is set to disrupt an annual bilateral trade worth Sh65 billion.

Last year alone, Kenya exported goods worth Sh33.7 billion to Tanzania, making it one of the country’s biggest trading partners in East and Central Africa, while Tanzanian imports in the country stood at Sh27.6 billion.

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