Cargo Drivers’ Compulsory Tests and Strict Route Discipline will curb COVID-19, not Relay Driving.

Cargo Trucks lined up at the Malaba One Stop Border Post.

Nicholas Kalungi.

The Uganda COVID-19 Taskforce has suggested several stringent measures to address the issue of cross-border Cargo Trucks Drivers importing the feared coronavirus in to Uganda.

This comes in the aftermath of some 22 Cargo Trucks Drivers testing positive of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, ending 26th April. These include 11 new cases recorded on Thursday 23th April. On that alarming day, 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.  Plus 4 newer cases were reported on Sunday, 26th April – all of Cargo drivers that entered Uganda through Mutukula.

By Sunday 26th April -23:00pm, Uganda had a total of 79 confirmed COVID-19 cases; including 46 recoveries and 33 active cases.

The tough measures that have been brought forward to address the cross border trucks drivers’ issue include but not limited to; mandatory tests of truck drivers at the cost of the freight forwarders ( trucks owners), each truck having a crew of two ( driver and 1 assistant) on-board, designating a maximum of three refreshment stops for trucks while on Ugandan soil, prohibiting drivers from interacting with the public and Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) acquiring 5000 new Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking (RECTs) Seals to be embedded on to all trucks that enter Uganda for easy automatic locating and monitoring.

URA showcases the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking system (RECTs) to the Uganda COVID19 Taskforce.

All these are very good, pragmatic, and achievable. They will supplement the other measures already in place in winning the COVID-19 war. Nonetheless, there is one strange, call it offbeat recommendation.

This odd proposal is for freight forwarders to adopt mandatory RELAY DRIVING for their trucks by end of May, 2020. Just like it is in athletics, relay driving in this case would mean, a truck coming from Mombasa having the same driving crew until Malaba, but as soon as they reach Malaba One Stop Border Post, this crew will pass on the truck to another set of drivers, who will also handover the truck to another crew for the case of transit cargo whose final destination is outside Uganda. At every exchange, the COVID-19 taskforce recommends thorough decontamination of each truck.

Allow me debunk this relay driving suggestion.

First and foremost, about 70 per cent of Cargo Trucks that enter Uganda are in transit whose final destinations are Rwanda, Burundi, Dr Congo, Central Africa Republic and South Sudan, etc. If you are to implement Relay Driving, all trucks in transit will need a minimum of 6 crew members altogether. That is to say, two from Mombasa to Malaba, two from Malaba to Elegu and another two from Elegu to inland South Sudan; in case that is the final destination. For freight forwarders to undertake this, they must deploy resident drivers in every country they operate in. Uganda’s main inland port – Malaba border post alone clears about 1200 incoming cargo consignments and about 800 outgoing trucks per day. You can do the rest of the math on the costs that will be involved, with Malaba as one example.

The Export and Import Routes at the Malaba Border Post.

Secondly, less than 20 per cent of the cargo trucks that arrive in Uganda are driven by Ugandans. A big majority of these cargo trucks’ drivers are Kenyans and Tanzanians. As a country, our professional truck drivers’ manpower is very limited. These trucks are also largely owned by Kenyan and Tanzania companies. For the record, the biggest freight forwarders company in Uganda owns about 200 trucks and the second biggest has less than 100 trucks.

Thirdly, because we have very few professional and experienced truck drivers, it will be ‘attempted murder’ to the side of the trucks and other road users if these trucks are handed over to drivers with limited competence and experience. Such an act will be the mother of more road accidents, and damage beyond repair to these trucks’ operating/engine systems. Depending on the manufacturer’s technology mastery; a system of a normal trailer has several differences with that of a straight box, car transporter, jumbo, flatbed, tanker or lowboy. The differences become even more complex and vary from one cargo truck maker to another. Indeed Sinotruks are different from MAN, Renault and Mercedes-Benz.

Lastly, as observed by Kenya Transporters Association, “both the security and safety of the cargo will be compromised by the multiple drivers that will be involved in a single haulage if Relay Driving is implemented. Truckers will also face hurdles in tracing driver’s responsibilities on trucks misuse, damages and theft of fuel and parts.”

The long and short of this is that Uganda lacks sufficient professional and experienced drivers to implement this relay driving suggestion. Plus relay driving if adopted will leave truckers compromised with hefty costs, insurance, and safety challenges in addition to several trucks being damaged beyond repair.

Meanwhile, with effect from today 27th April, Rwanda Revenue Authority has taken up Relay Driving, declaring that all cargo and conveyors shall be offloaded and transshipped at customs points of entry – border posts. This is very unfortunate.

Just like USA President, Donald Trump has repeatedly said; “the cure can’t be worse than the problem itself. Be careful, be safe and use common sense!”

The writer is a communications and financial inclusion expert.