Early at the beginning of the year, members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) conducted on-the-spot inspections of East African Community (EAC) projects, organs and facilities along the two trade corridors; Northern and Central.
The aim of the tour was to identify bottlenecks to the effective implementation of the EAC Customs Union Protocol. Among the facilities put in place was the East Africa Trade and Transport Facilitation Project (EATTFP) set up to reduce transit cargo time by eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) and enhance safety.
While many unnecessary weigh bridges were removed along the Central Corridor and resting areas for long distance truck drivers set up - at least after every 12 hours on the road - the safety issue still lags behind.
When EALA members arrived at the Rusumo One-Stop Border Post along the Tanzania-Rwanda border, they pointed at the lack of adequate safety and emergency measures. Seeing the number of trucks hurdled together, with some carrying inflammable liquids and gases, it was as if they were waiting for disaster to strike … and it did this week.
A fuel tanker on the Tanzanian side lost control and rammed into other parked trucks sparking an enormous explosion. The nearest fire engine was in Rwamagana, a two-hour drive on the Rwandan side. Rwanda National Police also sent another fire engine from Kigali.
Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) had the quickest option; it immediately swung into action and dispatched its fire-fighting helicopter into action. It was not the first time RDF choppers had crossed borders to help neighbours in need.
A couple of years ago a similar operation was carried out in Burundi when the helicopters were sent to put out huge fires at Bujumbura’s central market. It had also intervened on several occasions on both Uganda and Tanzania when severe accidents occurred on their side, flying the victims to safety.
Though it claimed only one victim, the Rusumo tragedy should be a wakeup call to fully implement the EATTFP by clearing cargo trucks as soon as possible and installing safety features wherever they converge. Next time the toll could be higher.