Truckers defy Malaba border deal

Trucks block Malaba-Bungoma road to protest harrassment by Uganda's security officials. [Ignatius Odanga, Standard]

Truck drivers have vowed not to resume operations on the Kenya-Uganda border despite an agreement between the two countries to end a three-day standoff at Malaba border point.

A meeting between senior government officials from both countries resolved to op-en up the border and end a standoff that saw a heavy traffic snarl-up on both sides of the border as drivers protested against harassment by Uganda’s security forces.

Transport Principal Secretary Solomon Kitungu and his East African Community (EAC) counterpart Kevit Desai led a delegation of Kenyan officials to the meeting with the Uganda delegation.

The Ugandan side was led by James Malinzi from the Uganda Revenue Authority in charge of Eastern Region, head of health services at Malaba border point, Dennis Turiagenda and Major Kenneth Habomugisha.  

Also present were Kenya’s Ambassador to Uganda, Kiema Kilonzo, the chief operations officer at the Kenya Transport Authority, Mercy Ireri, and a representative from the Ministry of Health.

The meeting comes hot on the heels of a strike by Kenyan truck drivers who blocked the Webuye–Malaba road for three days to protest against harassment by Uganda’s security officials.

The truckers claimed that one of their own had died from the harassment.

“Two weeks ago, one of our drivers was sodomised in Uganda before being stabbed. Our efforts to take him to hospital were thwarted by Ugandan army. His body has not been returned to Kenya. The truck he was driving and the goods in it are missing,” said one driver.

Addressing journalists moments after the meeting, PS Kitungu told the truck drivers to provide more details on claims that one of their colleagues was killed in Uganda and the atrocities he is claimed to have suffered in the hands of Ugandan army officers.

Dr Desai announced that Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda were keen to find a lasting solution to cross border disputes. According to the PS, the matter was being handled by the head of states of the three countries.

But a representative of the truck drivers in the meeting claimed that parties from the two countries failed to reach an agreement.

Abubakar Jafar said the truckers’ strike will continue despite the meeting.

“Until Interior CS Fred Matiang’i intervenes, the strike is still on. He should come here to assess the situation and take action,” said Mr Jafar.

Kenya and Tanzania

A similar meeting was held between Kenya and Tanzania last Friday at Namanga border point, where the two countries resolved to reopen their borders to diffuse tension that was building up due to travel guidelines and restrictions effected by both countries as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia led a delegation of Kenyan officials to the meeting with the Tanzanian delegation where both parties agreed to facilitate smooth movement of goods across the border.

As yesterday’s meeting between Kenya and Uganda officials continued, truckers demanded that the team addresses their plight.

Most of the trucks parked on the major highway stretching more than 80 kilometres had their tyres deflated by the angry drivers.

A number of drivers said they have been stranded on the highway for about five days.

“Uganda’s army officers snatch our gas cookers, water and deny us a chance to buy food or even painkillers,” said one of the drivers.

“We are being treated like criminals both at home and in Uganda; a local politician and area chief have warned locals of dire consequences if they dare sell anything to us. We are on our own since we have been tagged coronavirus carriers,” said Joseph Waweru, who has been camping at Kocholia.

The truckers claimed they were not even allowed to use toilets or buy medicine from local chemists.