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No getting rid of the BS at borders…

November 14, 2018
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When will the delays, corruption and looting at African borders be dealt with?

Not in our lifetime, probably… Not a month goes by without some report of delays, inefficiency or corruption at one or more borders in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The latest culprit is Kasumbalesa, the border between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

I was alerted to the situation on October 17 by Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), who explained: “Trucks cannot move because of the congestion and the DRC just cannot cope with the volumes of traffic.

“This is largely due to the fact that most of the revenue authorities and other government agencies at the border only arrive at work between 08:00 and 09:00 and stop working by 17:00 to get home; as most of the staff live in Lubumbashi, some 100 km away. As a result, nothing happens before 09:00 and very little can be done in the seven-hour working day.”

Fitzmaurice notes that the situation started towards the end of 2017 and has got progressively worse since then. It has become so bad, in fact, that trucks going to the DRC are now queuing all the way back to Chililibombwe, Zambia, some 20 km away. It is taking four to five days to clear the border and trucks are queuing for up to three days before they even get to the border.

One of the trucks attacked at the border.

“The border post is now fully congested on both sides and trucks cannot move as there is just no more space to park trucks. There is total chaos at the border: corruption is rife and there is a lot of criminal activity taking place with local touts demanding protection money from drivers.

“If drivers don’t cough up, they attack and rob them of everything they can lay their hands on, stone their vehicles and, in some cases, even threaten to burn drivers alive inside their trucks,” he says.

This is undeniably shocking and unacceptable. Fitzmaurice forwarded me a WhatsApp message from one of the drivers caught in the chaos: “I was driving that Truck last trip they Attacked me day light around 12:30hr they break tha Window but I did stop because when ever u stop they will attack u for them to take everything from your truck [sic].”

Fitzmaurice is worried that there is no plan by authorities to try and fix the situation, which gets worse each day.

“The situation is now untenable and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. Governments and authorities are just turning a blind eye, probably because they have some hidden interest in the situation. As we all know, corruption is rife when there is chaos and this is organised chaos without a doubt. The situation is just totally unacceptable and there is little or no policing taking place,” he notes.

What hope is there for initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, if this is how cross-border trade is conducted, and drivers are treated? Not to mention the continual issues in the SADC region that Fitzmaurice writes about in his column, Driving Africa, each month.

No region in the world is perfect, but it seems African leaders do not realise just how great our continent could be if they would just put their own interests aside and work at fixing the basics. What, in fact, is worse is that it seems they don’t care.

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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