As the East African Heads of state and Government were meeting to discuss on the continued free movement of goods and universal management of cross-border spread of Covid-19 as the key agenda in their Tuesday’s meeting, Tanzania President Joseph Pombe Magufuli was conspicuously missing and no apologies were offered.
It’s not clear why he was missing yet Tanzania is increasingly emerging East Africa’s weakest link in the fight against coronavirus pandemic.
Tanzania’s President has refused to close it’s borders even as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rise in his country. In the tests conducted in Kenya in the past three days, a good percentage of those who are testing positive are either truck drivers coming from Tanzania or those other citizens using porous border points from Tanzania.
This forced The African Union envoy for Infrastructure and Development Raila Odinga who is also believed to be close ally of President John Magufuli to weigh in. In an interview with BBC he said,
“This(Covid-19 pandemic) is a regional issue and…our destiny is tied together. We don’t want a situation where a country will be forced to close its boundaries against the other, dialogue is the best way,”
President Magufuli is yet to respond.
In the virtual Tuesday meeting convened by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, the current EAC Chairperson, the leaders agreed to prioritise the implementation of measures that will ensure uninterrupted cross-border movement of goods even as the region continues to battle Covid-19.
The leaders who included Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Salva Kiir Mayardit (South Sudan) acknowledged the challenge posed by cross-border trade in the fight against Coronavirus, especially the emergence of truck drivers as a high risk carrier population.
The Heads of State therefore tasked their respective state agencies responsible for health, transport and EAC affairs to roll-out border screening and testing measures especially for truck drivers that do not compromise cross-border movement of goods.
President Uhuru Kenyatta emphasized the need for collective EAC interventions against the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“A unified stand is what we need to combat this pandemic in the region,” President Kenyatta told his regional peers, adding that contact tracing had helped Kenya to isolate and treat those infected by the virus.
“We continue to actively enforce contact tracing which has proved to be very effective in identifying those who have come into contact with infected persons,” President Kenyatta said.
The Heads of State expressed satisfaction with measures taken so far by regional governments in managing Covid-19 and thanked the EAC Secretariat as well as the Council of Ministers for ensuring the region is able to minimize cross-border spread of the virus while ensuring uninterrupted movement of goods.
The leaders acknowledged the slowdown caused by the global pandemic on the region’s key economic sectors and urged member states to prioritize local production of essential supplies needed to combat Covid-19.
Further, the Heads of State encouraged EAC countries to invest more in agricultural production, agro-processing and value addition so as to empower the sector to act as an import substitute in this period when global trade is suppressed by the current public health crisis.
The leaders singled out Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as the sector with the highest potential to cushion the region against adverse economic effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic and recommended the establishment of special purpose financing schemes to support the sector.
The Heads of State thanked development partners including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) for their continued support to EAC states in combating the virus.