How will East Africa’s new border posts affect organised crime?

2018-03-29

On 24 February, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda jointly launched a new one stop border post at the Busia border; the latest in a series of newly launched posts. One stop border posts combine the traditional two stops into one, consolidating functions in shared spaces between two countries for exit and entry points. This facilitates joint verification, thereby saving time for travellers. 

The Busia border is a key link between Kenya and its landlocked neighbours Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. For the hundreds of vehicles that cross here every day, this move is a welcome one. It forms part of similar developments across the region, in line with the East African Community’s (EAC) One Stop Border Post Act which was adopted in 2016.

The main objective behind the new border posts is to facilitate trade and attract higher volumes of trans-shipment cargo. It is expected that the time taken to cross the Busia border, for instance, will be reduced by at least a third. Less time spent queueing means that more goods can be transported, faster.

The main objective behind the new border posts is to facilitate trade

Other one stop border posts in EAC partner states include Mutukula (Uganda/Tanzania), Mirama Hill/Kagitumba (Uganda/Rwanda), Rusumo (Rwanda/Tanzania), Lungalunga/HoroHoro (Kenya/Tanzania), Taveta/Holili (Kenya/Tanzania) and Namanga (Tanzania/Kenya). Rwanda and Burundi also have two such posts, one at Ruhwa and another at the Gasenyi-Nemba border.

While these posts are likely to boost bilateral trade and cooperation, they could also increase the region’s vulnerability to organised crime. If not managed properly, these posts could create gaps for criminality. Security agents who worked separately before will now be working jointly, and might be easier to bribe by transnational organised criminals.

Joint measures are needed to ensure that criminals do not exploit the additional vulnerability

As the EAC progresses in its aim to have free movement and enhanced trade, joint measures will need to be put into place to ensure that human traffickers, drug traffickers and other criminals do not exploit the improved access.

For a region such as East Africa, where corruption is endemic in a number of countries, a key factor in mitigating this risk will be managing the ‘corruptibility’ of border officials.

To enhance their response against transnational organised crime, these countries need to jointly identity and mitigate potential risks without jeopardising the objectives of the one stop border posts. While the EAC Supplement Act makes provision for criminality to be curbed at these posts, its implementation will only be as good as the managerial systems that supervise the integrity of the officials who work at these crossings.

Nelson Alusala, senior research consultant, ENACT project, ISS

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