South Africa

Sixty km queues as Covid turns Kenyan border crossing into lorry park

The queue of lorries snakes down the narrow tarmac road, stretching back as far as the eye can see on both sides of a sign that reads: "Welcome to Busia, the gateway to east and central Africa".

Before Covid-19, Kenyan driver Joseph Kimani used to reckon with a five-hour wait to cross from there into Uganda with his cargo of diesel.

Now the queue on the Kenyan side, which he and other drivers say extends for upwards of 60 km (37 miles), take five days to clear and, for them, life on the road has become literally that.

"The queues have been growing longer and longer," Kimani said, blaming the delays mainly on coronavirus-related health checks.

To cross over, drivers need to show a negative Covid test taken in the previous 14 days. Failing that, they must submit to testing at the border and wait two days for the result.

"I don't even get time to see my family. I eat what I get on the road. I live in this vehicle," he said.

Busia is part of a transport corridor that extends from Kenya's port of Mombasa into landlocked nations in East and Central Africa, including Rwanda, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Those four countries and 50 others are due to launch the AfCFTA pan-African free trade zone in January.

The date was put back by six months due to the epidemic, and Kimani says increased border checks in the interim have also added to the wait.

On top of the inconvenience of the long delays, Busia lacks sanitary facilities, and drivers say their allowances do not cover the time spent waiting in traffic queues.

"They (cargo owners) can't add any more money," said Rwandan driver Francis Miumbuki.

Kenyan Finance Minister Ukur Yatani said snarl-ups would be fewer once the approach road to Busia was turned into a dual carriageway, a project due for completion by 2022.

The AfCFTA secretariat had no immediate comment about increased border checks. 

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