East African Truck Drivers Pay Bribes for Negative Coronavirus Tests

Health personnel measure the temperature of a visitor at the entrance of the Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya on March 18, 2020. - The Government of Kenya confirmed new positive cases of COVID-19 coronavirus on March 18, 2020, bringing the total official number of cases in the East African country …
LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images

Long-distance truck drivers in East Africa are paying bribes to avoid state-enforced coronavirus testing at the Uganda-Kenya border, the head of Uganda’s Professional Drivers Network (UPDN) revealed on Monday.

Drivers “pay bribes of between $14 and $40 to get a certificate indicating negative [coronavirus] status, or to cross the border without being tested,” UPDN director Omongo Ndugu, who is also vice-chairman of the Uganda Long Distance and Heavy Truck Drivers Association, told Voice of America (VOA).

The Ugandan government currently requires long-distance truck drivers to be designated coronavirus-free before they are allowed to cross the border into any other east African country. To comply with the mandate, Ugandan health authorities have set up checkpoints at major border crossings meant to verify a driver’s coronavirus status. These checkpoints cause extremely long backups on major highways leading to the border’s main crossing points, Busia and Malaba. Ngudu told VOA that truck drivers often pay bribes just to bypass these traffic jams.

“Last week there was a [traffic] jam stretching for over 65 kilometers [about 40 miles] into Kenya and the drivers were left with no option other than to respond to brokers who approached them and took bribes. And in a short while, they were shocked that they were able to receive negative [coronavirus test] results on their phone,” he said.

Ugandan newspaper the Daily Monitor spoke with truck drivers last week who confirmed the bribery. John Kairuki, a truck driver from Kenya, told the newspaper that he and his colleagues recently paid for negative coronavirus test results while stuck at a checkpoint: “[A]fter about an hour, we were cleared to proceed. Why should I spend many days at the border if I can get the money and pay them to cross the border easily?” he asked.

The Daily Monitor quoted “sources” who reportedly told the newspaper that, “while Kenya tests the drivers freely” for coronavirus, “Uganda charges $65” for a single coronavirus test. “As a result, Kenya run[s] out of testing kits, and now all drivers are being directed to test from Uganda,” the newspaper claimed.

According to Ndugu, Uganda’s health ministry is “highly stretched.” He told VOA that most people working to enforce coronavirus restrictions in the country receive little to no pay.

“So many of these people have chances or can end up taking bribes, because these are like part-time jobs to them. They will have to have a life after COVID [Chinese coronavirus],” he explained.

Uganda reported 10,788 infections and 97 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus at press time on Tuesday.


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