Egypt reported the first confirmed Covid 19 case in Africa and the second was in Algiers. Both cases were reported in February 2020. As the pandemic spread across Africa, regional economic communities (RECs) in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) started to publish administrative guidelines to facilitate movement of goods and services during the Covid 19 pandemic. SADC was the first to adopt its guidelines on 6 April 2020 followed by EAC on 29 April 2020 and COMESA on 14 May 2020.
The guidelines issued by the three RECs had some differences, for example Paragraph 3.1.1 of SADC regulations read “Only trucks/vehicles with the following cargo, goods and services will be allowed to operate in….” and this gives an impression that only trucks carrying essential cargo are allowed through SADC border posts during the pandemic. This is different to the EAC regulations whose paragraph 3.1.9 reads “Urge partner states to prioritise essential goods to mitigate Covid 19 pandemic…..” The EAC regulations give the impression that any trucks can continue crossing borders in the EAC, however trucks carrying essential goods will be prioritised. The challenge with such different regulations is that some countries in the ESA region belong to more than one REC. For example Tanzania belongs to both EAC and SADC. Which regulations should Tanzania implement? It is worth noting that effort is currently underway to harmonise the guidelines from the three RECs’. The diagram below shows how one country belongs to more than one REC.
One of the recommendations is that truck drivers who have Covid 19 certificates from their countries of origin can be allowed through the borders if they do not have signs for Covid 19. However, there are challenges with these certificates. For example from 13 May 2020, Botswana required truck drivers to have covid 19 test certificate issued within 72 hours to be allowed entry. However, some truck drivers have reported that Botswana does not accept these certificates and drivers are tested as they arrive at the border post. The drivers allege that the situation on the ground is different from what is written in the country`s regulations. The drivers are being tested at the border and wait for the results to come out. The challenge may be lack of clarity on who should issue the certificates to be recognised or accepted. This clarity is essential as more countries start to ask for these certificates, for example Zimbabwe gave notice that it will also start from 22 June 2020 to request drivers to have covid 19 certificates valid for 7 days. Will drivers not be disappointed on arrival at the borders when told that their certificates are not acceptable?
The author recommends that the three RECs should harmonise testing procedures, the actual content of covid 19 certificates and establish regional testing centres whose results are acceptable to all member states. The truck drivers need confidence and certainty that their covid 19 certificates will be accepted at all border posts.
 Savingram: Referenced MNIG 8/4/6 iii (46) of 13 May 2020. Covid compliance requirements for truck drivers by Permanent Secretary of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs.
About the author:
Elisha Tshuma is a Customs and Trade Facilitation Expert based in Zimbabwe. He holds a Master of Commerce Degree in Management in Trade Law and Policy from the University of Cape Town and has worked extensively in the area of customs, tax and border administration in southern Africa. Elisha is a visiting lecturer at the University of Sciences (NUST) where he teaches Customs Management and Reforms. He currently serves as Director: Customs and Trade Facilitation at Shalom Fiscal Consultants in Harare. He can be contacted on email@example.com or +263 777850251 www.shalomfiscal.co.zw.
He writes in his personal capacity.