East African transporters secure cargo with e-tracking

By Laban Cliff | Business Daily, Kenya October 11, 2017

The coastal breeze and picturesque views of Kenya’s Indian Ocean meets the busy port of Mombasa where heavy machinery awaits to ferry tonnes of cargo.

Suddenly, the fresh and humid air is met with choking dust and screeching sounds of cranes as cargo is offloaded from the ship. Most of the shipment to Kenya includes food stuff, machinery, raw materials just to mention but a few.

They are sealed and locked into containers ready for transportation to East African countries.

Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) notes its Mombasa Port has the capacity to handle over 1.2 million containers annually and this number could be higher going by the several expansion works visible at the Port.

Aside from this number, the challenge has been on how fast these goods are cleared for transportation to other regional countries.

There is an average of 300 heavy commercial vehicles that leave Mombasa destined to East African countries on a daily basis.

“Lift, pack, move… lift, pack, move” paints the picture of clockwork operations at the port.

Our attention is drawn to these containers that have been a focus in the recent past. Most of the goods contained here do not reach their destination either due to highway insecurity, accidents or theft.

A team of tax officials donning their usual white, army-like uniform are busy affixing a magnetic gadget to containers. This is their solution to the perennial problem facing transporters in East Africa.

“A team at the gate identifies high risk goods in what we call sensitive items from the documents shared by transporters and these are what we track. These goods include; high performance vehicles, sugar, rice, powdered milk etc,” says Peter Olali a KRA customs supervisor.

I gather that most goods listed under sensitive items are those prone to dumping at border points, a scheme importers adopt to avoid taxes. It is a practice that the tax collector hopes to nip in the bud.

Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (RECTS) was launched by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) in partnership with Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) in collaboration with other donors such as the UK Aid.

RECTS is a harmonised cargo tracking system that connects Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda by monitoring cargo movement for both Kenya and transit markets transported within the regions.

Seven months after the RECTS was launched, regional tax collectors say that it has protected goods worth over Sh200 million from incidents such as attempted robberies, cargo diversions and accidents. They also note that over 20,785 cargo containers have been tracked with over 2,900 seals.

“I headed the first transit monitoring unit in Kenya in 1997 and it was extensively manual. We were escorting vehicles physically from Mombasa to the border,” says Peter Nguru, KRA’s deputy commissioner in charge of transit monitoring, customs and border control.

Uganda was among the early adopters of the e-cargo monitoring unit in 2013 and its adoption has been regional.

“Imagine marshalling 1,000 cars having custom officials in their cars following them, one at the back one at the front,” says Dicksons Kateshumbwa URA’s Customer of Customs looks back with nostalgia.

On the ground, it is all systems go. The hand-held monitoring kit is affixed to containers thanks to its powerful magnetic field.

Inside the seal, its fitted with sensors, USB Cables and a 4G Sim card that can be tracked anywhere in East Africa.

Any tampering with this gadget will send an automatic signal to monitoring centres in Kenya and Uganda and what follows is a series of calls from customs officials. Most of these are positioned in various locations along the northern corridor (transport highway from Mombasa to East Africa landlocked countries) with 4WD Pickups fitted with cameras to give a real time update on cargo transport.

These “check-up” calls are not new to 49-year-old, James Ssewankambo. The Ugandan long distance driver has been transporting cargo along the Norther-Corridor for the last 30 years.

The gadget could not have come at a better time and has been named “Mulika Mwizi” a Kiswahili term meaning “shed light on the thief” perhaps drawing some of the benefits RECTS has attracted.

“The good thing with this seal is that you do not stay for a very long at the border in clearing to go to Kampala” says Mr Ssewankambo, referring to faster clearances owing to less paper work presentation at the border.

Also the saving in cashless transport as bond is payment by the importer at point of entry (Port of Mombasa). Ssewankanbo notes that even with the “Mulika Mwizi” this has impacted on the cost of doing business.

In a month-by-month record of updates from RECTS, revenue authorities note that road delays of cargo cost the taxpayer Sh40,000 per day and any day saved contributes to a reduction in logistics cost in the region.

We sought to question these figures in our visit at Malaba and Busia border points.

It was interesting to note that most drivers preferred to clear in the evening hours so as to avoid police road blocks. These delays ended up piling trucks at border crossings in the period between 4 pm and 10 pm.

RECTS has not been devoid of critics with other tracking system vendors taking implementing agencies to court over lost business.

“We recommend that this system be incorporated as part and parcel of the East African Community Single Customs Territory, meaning it should be rolled out in both corridors (Northern Corridor – from Port of Mombasa and Central Corridor – from Port of Dar Es Salaam),” says Lilian Awinja, CEO – East Africa Business Council (EABC.

“Tanzania and Burundi should quickly come on board.”

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