Over the last two weeks, this columnist spoke at length with residents and business operators in Sirari in Tarime District, Mara Region, and Holili in Rombo District, Kilimanjaro Region.
The two towns are on the 1,000 kilometre-long common Kenya/Tanzania border stretching from the Indian Ocean coast to the Lake Victoria shores in the west.
A resident of Obwere-Kabwana village in Shirati, Marwa Mwita, narrated how closure of the Isebania one-stop border post by the Kenya government made it difficult if not impossible for both sides to conduct their day-to-day activities, including livestock-trading.
The Kuria folk of Mara Region in Tanzania and their counterparts in Suba Kuria, Migori County of Kenya were the most affected in the livestock trading stakes.
Usually traders in Sirari for example buy and fatten livestock ready for the market. But, rather than send the beasts to the Mwanza market in Tanzania 297 kilometres away, they opt for the Namba market located in Migori town, Kenya, a mere 24 kilometres away!
According to the traders I spoke to in Tarime, Musoma, Shirati and other local communities, it makes practical economic sense to send livestock to the Namba ‘gulio’ (market) in Migori County nearby where they not only arrive sooner and still fattened/healthy in Kenya, but also where they more often than not fetch higher prices.
Then the global corona-virus pandemic went on the rampage, resulting in lock-downs and severe restrictions on trading and other activities worldwide.
That was when and how livestock traders across the Kenya/Tanzania border found themselves and their stock-in-trade wedged between a rock and a hard place.
For no fault of their own, cross-border traders were on the horns of a dilemma: should they continue to buy and fatten livestock when there was no ready market for them?Tanzanian traders like Marwa Mwita of Obwere-Kabwana make a living out f the livestock business, pur-chasing and fattening live-stock for sale in Kenya vir-tually next-door. Restrict-ing market access and good neignbourliness/familial socialization on the back of a pandemic from foreign lands makes no sense to such rustics.
Livestock prices in Mara Region have gone way down with a cow-and-its-calf selling at the throw-away price of Sh120,000 down from Sh250,000 a few weeks ago.
In Kilimanjaro Region some 400 kilometres from Mara Region, Ms Theonista Materu went through Hell, losing a consignment of trade goods on which she had spent all her business capital.
The vehicle in which she was transporting her merchandise was stopped by people who described themselves as law enforcement officers from Moshi Municipality.In the event, what later turned out to be bandits confiscated her merchandise on the spot, and direct-ed her to report at the Moshi police station the following day.
On doing that the next day, she was told that the Police were not involved in the thieving operation -- and knew nothing about it.
The two incidents in Sirari/Isebania and Moshi/Holili are not particularly unusual in cross-border trade between Kenya and Tanzania.
It is amazing how Tanzania and Kenya fail to bolster issues and areas which would bring them closer together in the socio-economic development stakes.
The focus on geopolitics has taken the eye off the ball, so to speak. This is to the extent that one hears a regional commissioner stand up and declare that Kenyans will die of hunger if they do not re-open their side of the common border across which food imports from Tanzania pass.
Doesn’t he realise that Kenyans can easily turn to alternative food source markets?From the Kenyan side, you can hear braggarts respond along the lines that they really do not have to buy onions and suchlike from Tanzania to survive...What is it that drives these very simplistic, opinionated and uninformed views, pray?
Is it egotism that relegates reason to the backburner? You be the Judge here!Personally, I say that the most important network, twinning and symbiotic relationship we have is with Kenya next-door... A relationship with net-worth; one that we can destroy only to our own detriment.
Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and communications consultant with Midas Touché East Africa