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Tanzanian Traders Sneak into Kenya After Border Closure

Anxiety has gripped several border villages in Taveta sub-county after reports claimed Tanzanians were sneaking into Kenya through several unmanned routes along the porous border raising fear of cross-border transmission of the deadly Coronavirus.
The reported movement of Tanzanians affects areas including Madarasani, Kitoghoto and Lesesia.
This has in turn triggered mass anxiety amongst residents as fear mounts that the unregulated and sporadic cross-border human crossing remained a public health hazard.
Speaking to KNA on Wednesday, a source at Madarasani who declined to be named for fear of victimisation termed the situation worrying.
“Of course we are scared. Tanzanians keep popping up in our villages while Kenyans are not allowed to go across,” said the source.
The residents have urged the government to intensify patrols and monitoring operations at the border to curb the movements even as security agencies are reported to be working around the clock to halt human movement.
For years, residents of both countries living along the border have always had close interactions and regard each other as neighbours.
Farmers and traders in the far-flung villages largely go to Himo market in Mwanga district of Tanzania for trading.
However, after the Covid-19 outbreak, the government ordered the closure of the border and stopped mass movement of people.
Later, reports emerged that Tanzania had reported a Covid-19 positive case in Kilimanjaro province bordering Taveta sub-county.
The closure affected the supply of goods at Taveta wholesale market and disrupted trade for hundreds of farmers and traders from both countries.
Since then, most Tanzanians, just like Kenyans, have fallen onto hard times. With the markets closed, they have been sneaking into Kenya through dozens of unmanned bush paths notorious for illegal crossing for some little trading. Others come to seek medical treatment at Kitobo dispensary.
Unconfirmed report also alleged that last Sunday, a couple of Tanzanians from Kileo village in Mwanga district sneaked across the border to attend a church service at Maweni area in Kitobo.
However, nothing has irked Kenyans more than the harassments and beatings they are subjected to if they are nabbed in Tanzania.
Already, Tanzania police have been deployed at the border to close the illegal routes linking the two countries. Strangely, while Kenyans cannot move across, Tanzanians have a free pass to come and go as they wish.
“Kenyans who eventually pass after pleading for hours only get through after paying hundred shillings yet Tanzanians cross at will. There is need to close the border from our side,” the source said.
The situation came to a head last week after a youth from Kitobo who had sneaked into Tanzania to buy herbicides was brutally assaulted by Wanamugambo; Kenya’s equivalent of Nyumba Kumi heads.
He was later doused with gallons of water ‘to wash the coronavirus’ before he was allowed to go back home.
There are reports that village security committees in Tanzania have formed vigilante groups that are hunting down Kenyans who dare cross the border.
“They caught him and beat him. They then poured water on him to cleanse him of the virus,” said a bodaboda rider who only identified himself as Silas.
He added that there were fears that the youth might retaliate against Tanzanians found on the Kenyan side.
When contacted, Taveta Sub-County Police Commander Lawrence Marwa admitted to challenges of illegal crossing posed by the porous border.
He however stated that the police patrols were deployed along notorious routes especially at Madarasani area to deter illegal entries.
Marwa added that the 100-km long border from Kitobo to Njukini has several illegal routes frequently exploited by illegal crossers.
“We are patrolling the entire border on our side. Still, there are many routes used for illegal crossing and those are the ones we are trying to address,” said the police boss.
To enhance surveillance, the police, on Wednesday, convened a meeting with bodaboda riders and community members to strategise on how to collect and disseminate intelligence reports on presence of aliens in Kenya.
The police would then respond and act on the reports.
“The local residents and bodaboda riders know Tanzanians who are crossing illegally. They will share that information with us to take action,” said Mr. Marwa.
By Wagema Mwangi

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