It’s businesses as usual at Namanga despite Covid-19

Arusha. It couldn’t work even at the height of hostilities and the border closure from 1977 to 1983.

Now despite the killer coronavirus which has claimed lives in the region, the flow of traffic between Tanzania and Kenya continues unabated.

The movement is largely facilitated by those who earn their living from the operations of the busy Namanga border, in particular.

These include operators of passenger vehicles known as Noah who have devised smart ways to avoid the border officials.

A spot check by The Citizen on Thursday indicated travellers can easily skip health checks and other mandatory border procedures.

This perfectly works by avoiding the jointly operated border post building opened recently to ease the movement of people and goods.

Those behind the clandestine routes take advantage of confusion as to whether the common border between Tanzania and Kenya had been closed or not due to Covid-19.

“Trips to Nairobi have been stopped but you can still make it,” travellers from Arusha are told upon disembarking from taxis arriving from Tanzania.

From the Tanzanian side of the border, such travellers are taken across ‘no man’s land’ to the Kenyan side to board mini-buses operated by Saccos.

Upon paying the required fare, the vehicle with its local and foreign passengers zooms towards Nairobi or any other destination in Kenya.

“There is not stamping of the travel papers, nobody to ask and no restriction,” said a trader operating in the border town.

Officially, Kenya has closed entry to citizens of countries already hit by the pandemic. These include its closest neighbours Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia. But its borders are open to returning residents and officials of the international and regional bodies based in Arusha like the East African Community (EAC).

Incidentally, while it was easier to get into Kenya which has restricted entry, travellers to Tanzania have to go through the Immigration, Customs and health check posts. Residents of the town believe the common border has not been officially closed, save for enhanced restrictions due to Covid-19.

The border town, some 110km and 170km from Arusha and Nairobi respectively thrives on trade, clandestine when necessary.

Away from the border posts are numerous illegal routes, commonly known as ‘panya’ routes through which un-taxed goods are smuggled in and out.

Kenyan officials were yesterday reported to have been irked by illegal entry of people from or through Tanzania at this time of lock down.

“The government plans to work with Tanzanian authorities to tighten movement restrictions,” a Kenyan government official said yesterday.

Mr Joshua Nkanatha, the county commissioner for Kajiado county bordering Tanzania also expressed dismay on the porous nature of the boundary.

“The border point remains porous but we are trying to minimise illegal entry,” he was quoted by Saturday Nation saying.

Further spot checks by The Citizen, however, indicated decreased passenger vehicles plying the Nairobi-Arusha or Nairobi-Dar es Salaam route in favour of trucks loaded with goods.