Rwanda will need to revisit the traffic law that the cabinet passed on October 16, 2005 prohibiting importation of Right Hand Drive (RHD), or else it continues to lose investors in the transport sector, a critical aid to trade to a landlocked country. The main reason fronted for the new traffic law was to minimise road accidents.
Fears are that this may put the country in a lesser competitive position in the East African Community (EAC), a trade bloc it acceded recently. The country had since colonial times been known to keep right unlike the other East African states; Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania who keep left.
The government was flexible at first, not totally banning importation of right hand drive vehicles.
Article one of the order, paragraph 2 states in part: “All motor vehicles registered in Rwanda must have a steering apparatus on the left hand side”. The article however continues….
“Vehicles in transit and or those belonging to foreigners visiting Rwanda for different purposes with steering on the right hand side are allowed to use them for a period not exceeding three months. But when the period of the three months expires, authorisation from minister who has transport in his/her attributions is required.”
Assessing carefully the impact of this law to the financial statements, transport investors, both local and foreign have continued to shift to neighbouring countries where it does not really matter whether one has RHD or LHD. Experts in the trade have rightly argued that unless Rwanda revisits the law, expeditiously, it is not gong to stop at losing investors the country is in dire need of, but will certainly lose tax revenues too.
It will sound strange but is true. In Ndeeba, a suburb of Kampala, capital city of Uganda, is a park nicknamed “Rwanda Park.” because it has mostly Rwandans’ trucks. They are registered in Uganda reason being that in Uganda, it does not matter whether the steering is on the right or left hand side and, the recent abolition of road license fees in Uganda has even attracted more Rwandans to register their trucks there.
Ndeeba “Rwanda Park” has about 200 commercial trucks most of which are owned by Rwandans. They mostly ply routes to DR Congo, Rwanda, Southern Sudan and Burundi but based in Kampala.
Dubai in United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the leading market for second hand Japanese-made vehicles that come to Africa. Dubai vehicles are cheaper than European and American vehicles. A Rwandan importer incurs lesser freight costs buying from Dubai market, for it is nearer compared to other markets in the world.
However, Dubai vehicles are mostly RHDs not LHDs that Rwanda recommends. Following the ban in 2005, the local (Rwandan) market for Dubai RHD vehicles dropped to zero. But, Dubai exporters said it was not yet over with the Rwandan market.
Many Rwandan drivers interviewed at Magerwa said they now prefer working for foreign transport companies, for they are preferred by even local importers.
One Jean Claude Kalisa says, now that Rwanda is part of EAC, it should be flexible with some laws that do not make a lot of sense, suggesting that, since Rwanda, a landlocked country is now a member of EAC; it should change to driving on left to even woo big investors in the transport industry.
Statistics obtained from Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA); customs department at Magerwa indicate that vehicle imports dropped from 2, 793 in 2005 to 2,577 in 2006. This year’s imports are however likely to surpass last years. For instance, between January and July, 2007, statistics indicate that vehicle imports had hit 2, 562—perhaps because RHD vehicles are now changed to LHDs in Dubai unlike in 2005 when the law had just been passed.
A series of separate interviews with passengers in public taxis, commonly known as Twegyerane revealed that LHDs taxis are not convenient to them at all. Majority of these vans have exit doors on the opposite side where disembarking exposes a passenger in the middle of the road. This poses a big risk to passengers.
The owners of RHDs vehicles in Rwanda have up to October 2009 to get them off the road, whether still roadworthy or not.