KAMPALA – A dispute over COVID-19 testing fees for truckers has created a fuel crisis in Uganda, highlighting an economic impact of the pandemic in a landlocked country with virtually no fuel reserves of its own.
Mandatory COVID-19 testing at the country's border with Kenya caused traffic congestion last week as Ugandan customs officials struggled to apply the rules amid opposition from truckers who demanded exemption if they carried proof of a negative test result from Kenya.
With little movement at the border, many fuel stations across Uganda ran empty. Motorists lined up at the few still operating, creating anger when prices eventually rose sharply.
Long-distance truckers have long demanded exemption from the Ugandan government's strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, calling their services indispensable. A similar dispute over testing fueled protests on the Kenyan highway leading to the Uganda border in 2020.
Kenya and Uganda are on major transport corridors that serve a large part of central and southern Africa, often coming from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa.
Mandatory COVID-19 testing at Uganda's border with Kenya cost about $30, an amount that representatives of trucking companies called excessive.
Uganda on Tuesday suspended mandatory testing at the border, hoping to ease a fuel shortage in the capital, Kampala, where some stations were charging nearly $3, more than double the regular price, for a liter of petrol.
Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja on Wednesday expressed frustration over fuel prices, urging Ugandans to boycott companies seen as taking advantage of chaos at the border.
“I want to advise Ugandans to go to petrol stations that have not hiked the prices,” she said.
Some Ugandans mocked her comments. Price controls are hard to enforce in this East African country where commodity shortages often lead to price gouging.
Many Ugandans have complained about school proprietors who hiked tuition fees for students reporting back to school earlier this month after more than 83 weeks of disruption, defying the government's guidelines to the contrary.
Uganda has confirmed a total of 159,454 virus cases as of Thursday, including 435 active hospitalizations, according to official figures.