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Blackouts delay cross-border trade

In Uganda, the crisis is expected to ease only after the first phase 50MW Bujagali hydropower project begins operation. Recently Kenya Power released a countrywide power-rationing schedule, due to a shortfall of between 70MW and 90MW a day. Tanzania has energy demand close to 900 MW capacity, but produces less than 800 MW.

The power crisis in East Africa is slowing down the movement of goods across the borders, leading to increased costs of doing business.
A spot check by The East

African in some key border posts shows that it is taking twice as long to move goods between the East African Community member states due to the power outages.

At the Kenya-Tanzania border post of Namanga, the period for clearing goods has increased from an average of two days to five days.

A Tanzanian driver travelling from Mombasa to Dar es Salaam, Omar Shaban, told The EastAfrican that he had spent one week waiting for his truck to be cleared at the Namanga border post.

“My clearing agent tells me the delay is due to power rationing. I feel frustrated and I am also running out of money for upkeep,” Mr Shaban said.

The Tanzanian assistant Customs officer at the border, Jasper Kiwelu, says the power crisis has hampered the ability of clearing and forwarding agents to submit pre-arrival documents of goods thereby creating delays. The pre-arrival system requires clearance agents to submit online or print the documents prior to the arrival of consignments.

“Some agents begin the process of clearance on the very day that the trucks arrive at the border. Obviously it takes time to clear the consignment due to the power rationing,” Mr Kiwelu says.

At the Malaba border post between Kenya and Uganda, the situation is even more critical. The queues stretched for three kilometres as the trucks waited clearance.

Truck drivers say the journey from Mombasa to Kampala, through the Malaba border, should normally take three days, but they are now spending up to 10 days due to power rationing.

“We used to spend only a few hours at Malaba to clear consignments, but it now takes between three to four days,” said Kenyan driver Maganga Benedict.

The chairman of the Malaba branch of the Uganda Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association, Geofrey Baluku, says the situation is made worse by the lack of stand-by generators.

“We don’t have stand-by generators to help us, so our hands are tied when there’s no power,” Mr Baluku said.

The manager of the Uganda Revenue Authority in charge of the Eastern Region, Geoffrey Balamaga, admitted that the power crisis had affected operations but added that there were other factors as well, saying, “Power rationing is a problem, but we also have to put into consideration the fact that the physical infrastructure cannot support the current traffic on the roads.”

According to Mr Balamanga, the Malaba weighbridge, which was built in the late 1950s, cannot handle two truckloads at the same time, making Malaba inefficient in handling the growing cross-border trade

The East African
August 14  2011