Many Ugandans are sad right now. Not because the government has failed to handle the Coronavirus pandemic.
On the contrary, while the government’s positive ratings have skyrocketed in the past one month, there is growing loss of confidence with a big part of the population including myself now believing that we are being somehow let down.
By today morning – Friday 24th April, Uganda had a total of 74 confirmed COVID19 cases; including 46 recoveries and 28 active cases. This week alone, Uganda has had more than 20 recoveries and discharges which is a great thing.
Nonetheless, in the same week, we have had about 20 new cases. These include at-least 15 from cross border trade truck drivers. Just yesterday, 6 Tanzanian truck drivers who arrived via Mutukula Border post and 5 Kenyan truck drivers who arrived via Malaba (3) and via Busia (2) tested positive of this dreaded disease.
READ this again: Uganda registered 11 new COVID -19 positive cases yesterday, all coming from Truck Drivers arriving from our very good neighbours.
Even more disheartening is the fact that most of these truck drivers are neither delivering nor picking cargo from Uganda. Majority of these are ‘transit transporters’ with their final destinations being Rwanda, Burundi, Dr Congo, Central Africa Republic and South Sudan. Uganda is the region’s Logistics Hub and thus a lot of transit business happens here.
As such, many Ugandans who are diligently implementing the lockdown guidelines are now confused and disturbed. Many are sharing their frustration on Social Media with the hashtag – #StopTruckDrivers trending on Twitter. They worry that this lockdown may actually go past 5th May, not because the population didn’t put up with the government guidelines but because Uganda imported many COVID19 cases via our borders.
I have learnt from Daily Monitor website that the government is today 24th April, 2020, meeting Logistics stakeholders to fix this mess that is threatening the peace of mind of an entire nation.
Well, I won’t attend that meeting but here is what ought to be done.
To start with, Logistics players should ensure that all their drivers and turnboys do COVID19 rapid tests at point of departure, along the way including at the borders and at point of arrival. The truck owners should meet the cost of these tests which is about USD 100 per rapid test. Logistics is a multi-billion industry and as such, these costs are a mere drop in the ocean.
Secondly, Logistics Players should check their drivers and turnboys’ discipline along the way with a clear code of conduct implemented and hefty penalties for those that go against it. Cargo Transporters must immediately stop their ‘hospitality behaviour’ of stopping to ‘make merry’ in almost every town. Just like the rest of the population, they too will catch up with their relationships when the war is won.
Thirdly, Uganda Revenue Authority through the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (RECTs) should ensure that all cargo trucks on transit with in Uganda have tracking devices. That way, country will know which Truck crews are undermining set guidelines. For the record, RECTs was used to locate the first truck driver that tested positive of COVID19 last week. It is that effective.
Lastly, Government should immediately impose weighty fines on Logistics Companies that fail to comply with the COVID19 safety standards as outlined by the president, ministry of Health and entire taskforce. The population, local leaders, and security forces should work together to see to it that the set guidelines are implemented to the dot.
In short, the government must see to it that private logistics players take individual responsible for their trucks’ crews. Regional Governments and Trucks’ Owners must thus ensure that all truck drivers and turnboys are tested at all points of entry; the negative ones allowed to proceed and the unfortunate positive ones denied access to Uganda and handed over to authorities in their respective countries of origin.
Yes, Trade must go on but it must be SAFE. After all this is WAR!
The writer is a communications and financial inclusion expert.