Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Picture: REUTERS/NOOR KHAMIS
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Picture: REUTERS/NOOR KHAMIS

The stalemate between Kenya and Tanzania over the former’s recent border closure manifests a much deeper problem.

It is not about Covid-19 containment. Nor is it about delays in testing and clearing cargo transporters to contain the pandemic. It is about deep-seated rivalry, entangled in politics, commerce and history. And it brings to question regional countries’ commitment to co-operation and integration.

There is mistrust among members of the East African Community (EAC). In public they pontificate about the need for regional unity; privately, some castigate others. That is why, despite the signing of the EAC Common Market Protocol in 2005 and its commencement in 2010, there has been little progress in removing hurdles such as non-tariff barriers that constrict regional trade.

At face value the latest escalation arose from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive last weekend to close Kenya’s borders with Tanzania and Somalia. Though it exempted cargo transporters to facilitate regional trade, the caveat was that all truckers have to be tested and certified to be coronavirus-free to proceed. Tanzania responded by directing that Kenyan transporters be locked out of its territory, ostensibly to stop the spread of the coronavirus into Tanzania.

The action by both governments amounts to a blockade of intercountry trade. The implication of this is that goods from Kenya will not reach their destinations in Tanzania, and those from Tanzania will not reach their intended markets in Kenya. It is commendable that Tanzanian health minister Ummy Mwalimu later clarified that Kenyan truck drivers would be allowed entry into the country so long as they obeyed the anti-coronavirus measures put in place by the government.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli did not attend a video-link meeting for the region’s heads of state, whose objective was to chart a common approach to handling the pandemic. The reason for the joint approach is that the pandemic defies borders and territories. It is a global threat that has to be tackled cooperatively and collaboratively.

The revival of the EAC in the 1990s remains a major step in creating a stable regional economic and political bloc for shared prosperity. However, that goal cannot be achieved if member states come into the partnership with unclean hands. The Covid-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to sort out old grievances. /Nairobi, May 20

Daily Mirror