- Among the borders that Tanzanian lorry drivers found themselves locked out and stranded for days were Nakonde, Namanga, Tunduma, Horohoro and Rusumo
Dar es Salaam. The year 2020 will be remembered by freight truck crews for the numerous challenges they faced. They include stigmatisation, increase in costs of doing business and being denied entry into neighbouring countries.
This happened as countries took measures to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the borders that Tanzania lorry drivers found themselves locked out and stranded for days include Nakonde, Namanga, Tunduma, Horohoro, and Rusumo. The drivers claimed that were being harassed and stigmatised because countries within the region took different measures in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia imposed lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tanzania did not take that step.
Instead, the country (Tanzania) took less stringent responses whereby enterprises were allowed to operate while citizens were also free to attend religious gatherings with social distancing rules.
The public was, however, urged to maintain social distancing, wear face masks, and maintain sanitary habits.
The approach did not however go down well with some neighbours who sought it (the approach) would see them importing the virus from Tanzania via frequent travellers such as lorry drivers.
Following the closure of some of the borders against Tanzania including Nakonde, Namanga, Rusoma witnessed hundreds of transit cargo lorry drivers stranded.
The Tanzania Truck Owners Association (Tatoa) chief executive officer, Mr Octavian Amani, was quoted saying they had to went through several challenges including the increase in cost of doing business because they were being forced to pay demurrage costs.
He had explained that following the decision to lock out the drivers, they were forced to delay in returning back containers used to transport cargo, as well as incur extra costs for storage as well as extra costs for their lodgings, food and other general expenses.
In May 2020, The Zambian government closed the Nakonde One Stop Border Post temporarily to contain the spread of Covid-19 that was rampantly increasing.
Nakonde was temporarily closed to facilitate the roll out of the targeted interventions by the Ministry of Health to mitigate further spread of corona virus into and out of Nakonde, Zambian authorities said.
The decision by Zambia meant that Tanzanian drivers could temporarily not be able to route cargo to Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. It meant that cargo was temporarily stranded at the border.
Meanwhile, the Tatoa chairperson Angelina Ngalula is on record as having expressed alarm over ongoing rows at the borders after truck drivers were prevented from crossing and transporting cargo to the intended destination.
They had called for Covid-19 clearance certificates issued by ministry of Health, Social Development, Gender, Elderly and Children to be recognised and used at the borders without difficulty.
They had been of the view that the lorry drivers ought to be allowed to cross the border to deliver cargo to the final destination instead of the then decision that required them to off-load at the borders.
“We recognise the efforts of our lorry drivers who have been on the forefront in ensuring Covid-19 protective gear and other important facilities reach clients in neighbouring countries despite being discriminated and stigmatised,” she said.
“Our drivers were stranded at Namanga and Rwanda’s Rusumo borders for long periods waiting to off-load cargo while others waited to transport cargo to Congo amidst lack of adequate social services to meet their daily needs following the large number that was stuck,” she said.
Furthermore, she noted that the then procedure required Tanzanian lorries to end their route at the borders expect for those carrying essential goods.
This is despite Rwanda lorries being allowed to travel 1000km to Dar es Salaam to take cargo to full destination thereby creating unequal balance of trade between the two countries.
On cost, she said Rwanda has poor off-loading infrastructure and storage facilities, causing Tanzanian lorries to stay for long waiting for the services of Rwanda lorries to receive them - leading to extra container charges of up to Sh120,000 on daily basis for delaying the containers!