How Kenya’s major transport corridor lost shine to Tanzania

Long queues of trucks at Malaba border. Covid-19 appears to have eroded the gains made since 2014 in easing cross-border trade. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

The time taken by truckers to move cargo from Mombasa to the border towns of Busia and Malaba for re-export to Uganda and other neighbouring countries more than doubled following the outbreak of Covid-19.

The situation appears to have gotten worse in the second half of last year despite the gradual reopening of the economy, which has seen many economic sectors exhibit signs of recovery.

Delays in cargo movement within the country should be a concern for Kenya.

The country has to compete with effective transport corridors through Tanzania, especially for cargo owners in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

A new report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Trademark East Africa shows that moving cargo from Mombasa to Malaba increased to 11 days from an average of seven days after the country reported its first Covid-19 case.

This was lengthened by containment measures put in place by Kenya. A trucker’s journey to Busia from Mombasa increased to about 14 days on average, from an average of four days.

In February 2020, weeks before Kenya confirmed its first positive case of Covid-19, it took the trucks an average of 2.1 days to get to Busia, according to UNECA. Transit time had worsened in September to 17.3 days to take cargo to Busia and 10 days to Malaba. This is in comparison to the eight days that truckers took to pick goods in Dar-es Salaam and deliver them in Kampala.

“Cargo transit times worsened on all routes, increasing along the Mombasa-Malaba route from seven days in the first quarter of 2020 to 11 days by the second quarter,” said UNECA and TMEA report.

“Alarmingly, transit times remained relatively high in the third quarter of 2020. Transit time along the Mombasa-Malaba route for September was almost twice the previous year (at 10 days). The Mombasa-Busia route was nearly three times higher (at 17.3 days), indicating the challenges still facing the cross-border truckers.”

The more than 10 days that truckers took on Kenyan roads in September 2020 are in comparison to the five days it took truckers to move between the Port of Dar es Salaam and the border with Uganda. Moving cargo from the Tanzanian port to Kampala took eight days. Cargo took six days to get to the border with Rwanda, five days to the border with Burundi and six days to the border with DRC.

The lengthy times taken to get across the country was partly due to the need to adhere to Covid-19 protocols such as having certificates showing a truck driver was free of coronavirus.

This added to the many non-tariff barriers that have been hindrance to trade within the region.

The shorter period of moving cargo through Tanzania is of concern as re-exports to these countries are key to Kenya’s economy. They support the local logistics industry and informal businesses along the transit routes.

The UN said the implementation of the Single Customs Territory in July 2014 reduced the transit time on the Northern Corridor from 18 days to four days from Mombasa to Kampala in Uganda. It also reduced from 21 days to six days from Mombasa to Kigali. However, Covid-19 appears to have eroded the gains made.