East Africa face diplomatic spat due to COVID-19 tests

COVID-19 tests

Kampala, Uganda | URN| A diplomatic spat is brewing in the East African Community (EAC) as some partner states say, positive COVID-19 tests of their nationals in neighbouring countries are meant to sabotage their tourism industries.

In a letter dated May 20, 2020, the Tanzanian government said that 15 of its truck drivers that had been blocked from entering Kenya after reportedly testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, had tested negative in Tanzania.

On the basis of this, the Tanzanian Regional Commissioner Mrisho Mashaka Gambo said that Kenya was declaring Tanzanian drivers positive to sabotage it’s tourism industry.

Gambo said in efforts to confirm the reliability of COVID-19 test results, Dar es Salaam took samples from 19 drivers from Tanzania who had been tested and declared positive by Kenya authorities at Namanga border on the Kenyan side.

“After these samples were submitted to our Main National Laboratory in Dar es Salaam, the results came back as negative for all these drivers from Tanzania.” Gambo wrote that “Arusha region is confident that this is a deliberate sabotage strategy designed by Kenya against our tourism industry in Arusha and Tanzania at large.”

In the same letter, Tanzania refuses to disclose the name of another country it says it had also two more truck drivers who tested positive from “another country whose name shall be kept private in this document.” This brings to the fore the simmering mistrust that regional leaders had been covering.

In a videoconferencing early this month, leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan participated but Burundi and Tanzania did not. There was no explanation over their non-participation.

Isaac Shinyekwa, a researcher in regional integration at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) said there appears to be two factions in the region on how they are approaching coronavirus issues.

He said Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya seemed to be moving together guided by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines but Tanzania and Burundi have rejected these. Shinyekwa said there is an indication all was not well in the region.

Read Also: Partners or Competitors? The road to East African integration

Burundi recently declared WHO representative in the country persona non grata and asked them to leave the country.

Even when Kampala, Nairobi and Kigali seem to be moving together, the mistrust issue seems to be alive. A representative of a transport agency transporting fuel from Kenya through Uganda to DRC told this publication that their drivers were being subjected to various tests in each country they enter into. This is because none of the countries is trusting results from the other state.

Drivers from Tanzania say they are being looked at as the problem wherever they go in the region. Tanzania had stopped testing therefore kept partner states in the dark over the situation there.

Cracks in the integration of the EAC region have been alive even before COVID-19. Kenya still not accepting Uganda’s milk while Tanzania only recently accepted to take just 20,000 tones of sugar from Uganda.