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Traffic jam along the Malaba road due to enforcement of COVID-19 protocols at the border.

Northern Corridor Transit Time Indicator Improves in the Last Quarter of 2020

Transit Time in almost all routes along the Northern Corridor improved during the last quarter of 2020 following reduced border crossing times due to initiatives to facilitate easier border crossing for truck drivers and crew.

According to the Northern Corridor Dashboard Quarterly Performance Report for the period October to December 2020, transit time from Mombasa to Kampala reduced from 167 to 131 hours, 167 to 135 hours from Mombasa to Elegu, 214 to 187 hours from Mombasa to Kigali, and from 216 to 160 hours Mombasa to Mpondwe. The positive trend was greatly attributed to the opening up of borders by the Northern Corridor Member States and implementing the Regional Electronic Cargo and Driver Tracking System (RECDTS).

Since the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in March 2020, transit time was on a steady rise. The worrying trend was due to measures put in place by the Member States, including lockdowns, curfews, social distancing, disinfection, mandatory COVID-19 testing and, in some cases, relay trucking to prevent transmission of the Coronavirus disease across borders.

Transit time measures the time taken by transporters from the port to deliver cargo to the destination. It is affected by numerous factors that occasion delays and stoppages along the corridor from Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) to road conditions, inspections, road accidents, insecurity, driver resting time, among others.  The COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge for movement of goods with Health Ministries in the Member States instituting protocols requiring truck drivers to be tested and present a COVID-19 free certificate at the border, social distancing and travel curfews.

The Mombasa Port and Northern Corridor Community Charter (MPNCCC) target for transit time from Mombasa to Malaba was 60 hours by December 2020, and from Mombasa to Busia, 65 hours by December 2020. From the quarterly report, the average transit time improved significantly from 121 hours in October 2020 to 82 hours in December 2020 along the Mombasa-Malaba route. More than half of the trucks to Malaba recorded an average of 108 hours transit time in October and an average of 80 hours in December 2020.  The average transit time from Mombasa to Busia reduced from 115 to 83 hours, and from Mombasa to Taveta border reduced from 34 to 26 hours in October and December 2020, respectively.

In Rwanda along the Northern Corridor, the average transit time from Cyanika to Rubavu improved from 38 hours in October to 19 hours in December 2020. Kagitumba to Mururu route transit time worsened from 53 hours to 60 hours in December 2020.

In Burundi, under the ASYCUDA system, the average transit time from Bujumbura to Kanyaru-Haut and Nemba/Gasenyi (export routes) was inconsistent over the period varying from as high as 299 hours to a low of 240 hours on Kanyaru route. The quarterly report points out that barriers to cargo movement still exist along the route, resulting in prevailing inefficiencies. Truck drivers from Bujumbura to Gasenyi/Nemba border took an average of 182 to 299 hours, 240 to 299 hours from Bujumbura to Kanyaru Haut, 39 to 46 hours from Kanyaru Haut to Bujumbura, and 21 to 67 hours from Kayanza to Kanyaru Haut, in October and December 2020 respectively. The report also records an average transit time of 84 hours from Kayanza to Gasenyi.

COVID-19 testing protocols notwithstanding, the long delays within Burundi were due to steep terrain and poor road conditions resulting from damage by rain and overloaded vehicles.

The quality of transport infrastructure is crucial to reducing transit times and subsequent reduction of transport costs. Overloading is a major factor in the depreciation of transport infrastructure. The transport observatory monitors the efficient performance of the weighbridges and the level of implementation of the Vehicle Load Control Charter that commits users of the corridor to comply with load limits to protect the roads from pre-mature damage due to overloading.

Weighbridges in Kenya along the Northern Corridor are fully automated and installed with High-Speed Weigh in Motion (HSWIM), except for the Busia weighbridge. The quarterly report records a steady performance of over 95% compliance levels except for Busia weighbridge, whose compliance level ranged between 81% and 90%. Low compliance at the Busia weighbridge could be attributed to the weighbridge not implementing the HSWIM technology, reducing its efficacy.

To avoid transit delays and penalties to cargo transporters, measures are required by both transporters and the road authorities to ensure compliance and efficiency of the weighbridges.

Although the opening up of borders by the Northern Corridor Member States and the implementation of RECDTS were crucial in reducing transit time, the region has invested immensely towards the reduction of transit time through improvement and expansion of road infrastructure, implementation of the Single Customs Territory framework for clearance of goods, Installation of One-Stop Border Posts (OSBPs), among others. These initiatives have enhanced the efficiency of the corridor and, to no small extent, played a part in reversing the effects of Coronavirus disease on transit time.

The report says that improvements in road infrastructure around the seaport and the corridor at large and the implementation of Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) have significantly played a part in the recovery during the quarter. However, it notes that there is still a challenge of automated data exchange among the member States participating in the SCT framework of clearing goods. The SCT platform for the exchange of data on goods being cleared is not efficient. The report echoes a recommendation from previous Northern Corridor Transport Observatory studies to adopt a single transit system for the Northern Corridor for clearance of internationally traded goods.

In addition to the implemented initiatives, the report argues that a detailed assessment of the regional level vulnerability to put in place national and trans-boundary disaster mitigation measures will transform the Northern Corridor into a resilient corridor and reduce transport costs.

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