Others are in buses, Lorries and yet others, seem to be hanging around, as if waiting for something to happen. These, the waiting lot, are the foot soldiers Welcome to Holili, small border town between Tanzania and Kenya and the constant movement from either side of the border is accompanied by loud charter and banter, but other times low whispers as traders stream between the two countries, accompanying their goods.
The goods in question are household groceries and how they move between the two countries. In the list of groceries include sugar, salt, cooking oil, blue band, soap, rice and maize flour. As traders buzz around between one border to another, another set of people are busy.
These are the Government officials whose task it is to man the border post. They include among others, security officers, immigration, revenue, customs and a host of other officials. They have their eyes set on the brisk walkers and riders to ensure that nothing passes their eagle eye.
On this bright Saturday Morning, we are in the tracks of a middle-aged Lady trader, who for reasons she does not want to disclose, prefers to only introduce herself as Mama Derrick. Mama Derrick is a commodity trader from Arusha and has been on the road between Arusha, Holili & Taveta, for the last 7 years. She travels this road twice a week with a specific mission, to procure goods in Taveta on the Kenyan side and sell them to her customers who order goods in Arusha.
Welcome to Holili, where we are testing the reality of the East Africa Community’s resolve to allow the free movement of goods and services between member countries. “Police and TRA are easily our biggest problem.” That explains why Mama Derick is all quite & apprehensive when,the Daladala we have boarded, is stopped by police for inspection half way between Holili and Moshi at Kwa Hussein.
The well endowed Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) officers (2 men and a lady) are on a mission. As soon as the Daladala is parked on the roadside, they exchange greetings with the vehicle crew and throw a “good day” to the rest of us before requesting all, to step out for the vehicles inspection.
For a 14-seater passenger vehicle, it is overloaded with passengers, 15 women and 5 men, and similarly shocking how ingenious the loading of goods was done. Under each seat, a stack of goods was packed and in such a manner that with seated passengers, one could not notice the goods. Then in the mini vans boot, another stack of goods, rice, soap, sugar, biscuits you name it!.
Quickly the goods are all off loaded as the TRA officials record everything they are off loading from the Dala Dala and at the same time loading onto their white TRA Landover. The traders are at this point in time murmuring and whispering amongst each other about who called the TRA officials to alert them that “we are coming.”
When the confiscation is on, I ask the TRA official why they are doing this and he brusquely answers, “they have not paid any taxes for these goods.” Indeed the idea of free movement of goods as envisaged in the East African Community Protocol seems to be unknown to Government officials. The traders, Mama Derrick and her colleagues, seem to be resigned to their fate as this confiscation of their commodities is a risk that they live with every trip they make.
“We lose money for instance today they have confiscated everything I bought, Soap, cooking oil, even sugar. It means I have lost Tsh300,000. They will impose a fine which I cannot afford, hence I have to just find some other seed money and come back on Wednesday,’’ says Mama Derrick, who nonetheless is composed, almost resigned to her fate. Mama Derrick is an example of what happens to the border traders.
The trade is brisk every Wednesday and Saturday when there is a Market Day in Taveta Kenya. The TRA debacle, arrests and fines by Police, bribery and speed chases have never dampened the spirit of Mama Derrick and her fellow traders. Not even the loss of goods and savings. So, why do they continue doing it? “What choice do we have? The Government talks of free movement of goods and services, we have invested in this trade but we still end up being made to look like criminals.
Yet we believe we are earning honest living because we buy where we contribute to tax and sell to people who pay taxes,” adds Mama Derrick.” Who shall come to our rescue? They are allowing big manufacturers to get tax exemptions and bring in the same goods in lorries and denying us opportunity to earn a living.” Yet that’s not what the Tax authorities see. The talks at capitals continue, the business prople like Mama Derrick continue to wait for the fruits of regional integration to trickle down to them. How much longer shall they wait?