Kenyan police clear truckers blocking east Africa's main trade route

Reuters News
Posted: May 23, 2013 1:02 PM

By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA (Reuters) - Kenyan police cleared the only highway from the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa to the capital Nairobi on Thursday, two days after striking truck drivers blocked it and threatened to choke the main trade artery in east Africa.

Some 95 percent of all cargo arriving through Mombasa is ferried to its final destination by road, with lorries the main mode of transport. Most of the goods end up in Uganda and Congo, with the rest going to Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and even Somalia.

The truck drivers had wanted officials, whom they accuse of extorting bribes, to revert to the old way of weighing cargo after a change in law. When they refused, truckers used their vehicles, logs and stones to block the vital trade lifeline.

But once the truckers' union, The Kenya Transporters Association (KTA), called their blockade illegal, the police moved to break up the protests.

"We have ensured that they clear a section of the highway for other motorists to pass through," Joshua Omukata, Coast region traffic police chief, told Reuters.

Omukata said the pile up on the highway is now down to 10km on both sides of the highway, improving on the 30km-long lines on Wednesday.

The Kenya Transporters Association (KTA), whose 400 members have around 50,000 trucks, said the drivers had no option but to comply with the law.

"These weigh bridge officials are not relenting, so our effort to protest appears to be a waste of time," said Omar Juma Kamba, a truck driver carrying gas cylinders to the DRC, some 20 hours after he first begun protesting.

(Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Jon Hemming)