One stop border posts – contributing to the ease of doing business in East Africa

Abdul Mohamed is a small business owner based in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. He owns and drives his own truck, which he uses to export plastic chairs to neighbouring Burundi. On Tuesday 9 September 2014 Abdul leaves Dar es Salaam at 7.00 AM carrying almost 2,000 chairs bound for a retailer in Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi. The following day at 1.00 PM after 30 hours on the road, Abdul arrives at the border post of Kobero, just inside Burundi territory.
Abdul Mohamed has been exporting chairs to Burundi for the last three years, a five-day return journey covering nearly 2,400 Km. He has made good time on this journey and he expects to spend up to four hours at the border post before getting back behind the wheel and on the road. But it wasn’t always so.

Just four months before, Abdul would have had to make the same journey with two border stops, the first at Kabanga on the Tanzanian side of the border, then at Kobero. The procedure was lengthy. Abdul would, through the services of a clearing agent, declare his goods to the customs officers who would make a physical inspection of his cargo. That could take up to 12 hours as he waited in line with the many other truck drivers who use the central corridor to carry goods inland from the port of Dar es Salaam.

Then, having completed that procedure, Abdul would go through immigration procedures before finally being allowed into the small patch of no-man’s land that separates Tanzania and Burundi. On reaching the barrier at Kobero he would join another line of trucks and the whole procedure would begin again, with customs officials making another physical inspection of his goods. It was a tedious, time-consuming process, which added up to 24 hours to Abdul’s journey, costing him time and potential revenue. After all, the sooner he could return to Dar es Salaam, the sooner he could use his single lorry to produce income.

It was situations like Abdul’s, with double customs declarations and verifications, along with other delays like non-tariff barriers, that caused journeys from port to destination to take much more time than they should have. While a day or two might be added to the drive from Dar to Bujumbura, the journey time from Dar to Kigali, with another border to cross, could be extended by four days, with a proportional time increase for trucks going onto the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was definitely not good for business.

Pilot One-Stop Border Post opened at Kobero/Kabanga
But today, as Abdul bustles around the busy border, going from clearing agent to customs to immigration, he hopes to be in Bujumbura by early evening. This is thanks to a pilot system being operated on this border – the ‘one-stop border post’.

The concept of the One-Stop Border Post(OSBP) is that traffic crossing the border need only to stop at one border post. For Abdul, heading inland to Burundi, that means that he misses out the Kabanga post and goes straight to Kobero, wherein a spacious, operational building other buildings are under construction) officials from Tanzania and Burundi work together. On the return journey, Abdul will go straight through Kobero and stop at Kabanga on the Tanzanian side of the border. Thus each border post handles incoming traffic only, with exit and entry procedures completed in the same building.

Celestin Nzeyimana the Head Officer at the Kobero border, is full of praise for the new system. “Before it would take two days to cross the border,” he said. “Today it is one to two hours.”

With up to 80 trucks crossing into Burundi every day the OSBP is big on time-saving. Along with other innovations,(like advanced electronic customs systems, an electronic cargo tracking system that monitors a truck’s journey from start to finish, and the elimination of unnecessary non-tariff barriers), the OSBP is designed to reduce the time to cross borders and transport costs to business, which will ultimately lead to increased wealth and reduced poverty in East Africa.

Border crossings require adequate infrastructure
TradeMark Africa (TMA) is funding 13 OSBPs in East Africa, including the one at the Burundi/Tanzania border – the pilot post that is proving that the system works – at a cost of approximately US$7 million each. Each post consists of an office building for the border agencies, parking for trucks, a ramp for offloading goods, an inspection/verification warehouse and other facilities that are required at every border post.

Four hundred kms to the north of Kobero, on the border of Rwanda and Uganda, TMA is constructing another OSBP at Kagitumba on the Rwanda side and Mirama Hills in Uganda. While there are three border crossings into Rwanda from Uganda,Mirama Hills/Kagitumba is the border crossing with the least steep gradient when travelling from Kampala to Kigali. Yet, because of a deteriorating 37 km section of road leading to Mirama Hills, most traffic uses the longer, craggier route through Katuna/Gatuna borders. Recognising that a good road to Mirama Hills is crucial to the success of the OSBP, TMA undertook to rehabilitate the road, including the building of two bridges between the two borders, in addition to constructing One Stop Border Posts.

Ronald Musiga Kwezi, Head of Customs at Mirama Hills acknowledges the value of the road to the border crossing. “When trucks use this road they are often delayed when it is flooded due to rain,” he explained.“They could get stuck for days. So many people preferred to go the long way round to Katuna. When the road is repaired the traffic will increase and we expect it to quadruple.”

Businessman, John Hagena arrived at the Kagitumba border post with his truck,having travelled 800 km from the north of Uganda, a journey that took three days due to a bad road and poor weather. When the OSBP opens and the road is rehabilitated he expects his journey time to decrease by a day, which is in line with TMA’s target to reduce the crossing time by 30%.

Beneficiaries include women with small businesses
It’s not only trucks that will benefit from the OSBP. Cross border traders, many of whom are women, make their living on a daily basis selling things like rice or eggs. Celestin Nzeyimana explained what they do to help these people at the Kobero OSBP: “The small traders with goods worth less than US$500 are treated differently. They do not need to pay to use a clearing agent. Instead Customs staff fill out the form for them (at no charge) and they pay a small amount of duty.”

This legitimate payment also prevents harassment by border officials – something they have been accused of in the past. In addition, the small traders are being educated in the benefits of the East Africa Community and how it can help their businesses to grow.

For the staff working at the border crossings the OSBP is an exciting prospect. Just three months earlier the immigration officer at Mirama Hills was based in a metal hut, which was cold in the early morning and too hot after midday. Currently in a newly completed temporary facility, he is looking forward to moving into the new building, due to open in March2015. The clearing agents too are anticipating the future with increased trade, which in itself will create jobs, while the Forex Bureaux operators expect to get many more customers.

“Definitely it will make a difference when the road is complete,” says James Ndemeze a foreign exchange dealer. “It will carry more traders which will mean we will get more income. It will create jobs and bring more wealth”.

Nelson Rwenaga of Uganda’s Ministry of Public Works, which is cooperating, with TMA on the construction of the OSBPs in Uganda (also at the Kenya and South Sudan borders) is pleased with the progress of the new infrastructure. “To be honest with you,” he commented, “We find working with TMA very much easier than most development partners.TMA works with communities as well as the government,” he added “and has supported initiatives that are user-friendly, business orientated and actually focused on the dynamics of the economic dimensions.”

Truck owner and exporter, Abdul Mohamed, already receiving the benefits of the pilot OSBP at Kobero, and businessman John Hagena, who will soon profit from the reconstructed road to Mirama Hills, would surely agree with that.