That Kenya and Tanzania have not always been good neighbours is not a secret. Business rivalry between traders on both sides of the border continues to play out. Never mind the customs union that guarantees free movement of good and labour.
At the middle of the schism are customs officials who are accused of fanning an already raging fire.
A senior government officer at the Namanga border point, who could not be named fearing reprisals, told the Sunday Nation that Tanzanian authorities have been overzealous in protecting their business territory, taking advantage of Kenyans’ hospitality.
“We feel our Kenya government is reluctant to protect her citizens from her hostile neighbour. We demand government protection,’’ said Mr Stephen Korinko, a trader in Namanga.
And after seeing their cattle auctioned and chicken incinerated, residents are now taking matters into their own hands.
Trade disruptions witnessed at Namanga and Loitoktok border points have seen Kenya exports to her neighbour fall.
However, Prof Gerishon Ikiara, a development and policy economist and lecture at the university of Nairobi, says the regional trade balance between the two can only be realised when all countries implement the signed trade protocol.
Ikiara says Tanzania is the biggest beneficiary from East African Community headquarters in Arusha, making it a business hub and the fastest growing town in the region.
“Kenya should address the problem through serious diplomatic protests involving other East African Community states. Also the country may move to the East African Court of Justice,’’ said Prof Ikiara.
Last week saw irate Kenyans block the road to Namanga, claiming harassment by Tanzania authorities following the arrest of three milk traders.
For three days, traders in the town incurred big losses and foreign tourists entering Kenya were blocked with some changing their route or postponing their trip altogether.
Over the years Kenya has provided a market for Tanzania goods. Over 100 trailers ferry products across the border including fresh produce. A huge number of Tanzanian traders operate in Kenya, for example the second-hand clothes dealers at Gikomba.
During the last two years, the business relationship has been frosty with Tanzania tightening their noose on Kenyan traders despite the bilateral free trade agreement, placing them at a disadvantage.
Kenyan traders have often accused Tanzania immigration agents of mistreatment, sparking the recent protests at the border point.