By Melodie Mukansonera
Truck drivers from Kenya transiting through, or bound to Uganda are up in arms following what they term “very unfair treatment” by Ugandan authorities. They staged a no-move protest spanning over 50 kilometres after Ugandan President Museveni decided to deport drivers infected with Covid-19 – a move seen as intended to revise downwards Uganda’s Coronavirus figures.
The drivers have now outlined their conditions to lifting the protest. Among these demands is meeting with the Uganda president. The truck drivers had previously demanded a commitment from Museveni to end what they term harassment, “otherwise they would no longer move cargo into Uganda.”
Recently the Kenyan truck drivers narrated to The Star newspaper of Nairobi how they suffer harrowing experiences at the Uganda border, and inside Uganda. They say they are stigmatised as “Covid-19 carriers” and that the discrimination persists, despite the fact testing and getting results can take as long as a week.
“Let Uganda pick up and transport its own cargo!” one was quoted angrily saying. Despite waiting long hours for the results of Covid-19 tests at the Malaba screening centre, the truckers are not allowed to alight in Uganda, and must carry their own food.
Hussein Abdullahi, one of the drivers said that apart from the delays at the border, the journey from Malaba to Kampala to deliver cargo is becoming increasingly risky. “On the way, we are not allowed to leave our vehicles. When they see you come out, they throw stones and order you back inside. We are treated as though we have the plague. We hardly eat while inside Uganda, and we’re not even allowed to go to a shop or restaurant,” he said.
Commenting on the protests, the Executive Director of Uganda Professional Drivers Network (UPDN), Ndugu Omogo accused the authorities of mistreatment, torture and stigmatization. This comes in the wake of 25 truck drivers who went missing after they tested positive of Covid-19. Observers say they could have been scared because of recent deportations of infected foreign drivers.
The observation was backed by Uganda’s Ministry of Health saying that of those who escaped, seven of them are still missing and could be around,or past Ndeeba – a congested Kampala city suburb – on Saturday night.
“They are among the 25 drivers who previously disappeared into the community after they tested positive at Elegu and Malaba border posts,” said Dr. Kagirita Atek, Uganda’s National Covid-19 Response Incident Commander.
Some of those who went missing have been in the community for more than a week. Many of them ran away because there is no existing case management system. Many think the government just wants to steal money using the cover of Covid-19, they say.
All the drivers who have tested positive are freelance, according to the Driver’s association. They do not have permanent jobs. The only way they get money is when they return the trucks. Nobody accepts them in the community when they test positive,” said Omogo from the Uganda truck drivers’ association.