Could East African system provide the solution to the post-Brexit Irish border conundrum?

President Kenyatta at the launch of the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System at the Times Tower monitoring unit in 2018. Photo: Twitter/KRACorporate

The problem of what to do with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland once the UK leave the European Union (EU) has proved to be the most contentious issue of the Brexit negotiations.

Once the UK stops being part of the single market and customs union, the border on the island of Ireland will become an external border between the two.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s arrangement for a ‘backstop’ was defeated by the biggest majority in parliamentary history, mainly down to the inability of either side to unilaterally decide to end the arrangement, with Brexiteers fearing it could leave Britain trapped in the EU indefinitely.

But a system which has been used across border points in East Africa may provide a way to break the Brexit deadlock.

The working group looking at possible solutions has been briefed on the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (RECTS) which has successfully operated across the borders between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda for the last 18 months. Its development was supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID) through TradeMark East Africa (TMEA).

The system facilitates trade along the Northern Corridor, the busiest and most important transport route in East and Central Africa, providing a gateway through Kenya to the landlocked economies of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern DR Congo, as well as South Sudan. It has lowered the cost and time of doing business and helped to curb theft and diversion of goods destined for markets within the transport route through the port of Mombasa.

Kenya Integrated Scanner Command Centre
The Integrated Scanner Command Centre which forms part of the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System. Photo: Twitter/KRACare

A harmonized system connecting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, RECTS presents 24/7 Central Monitoring Centres (CMC) in Nairobi, Kampala and Kigali with a view of the entire region.

It also consists of 12 Rapid Response Units consisting of Customs and Police Officers along the Northern Corridor. Smart gates and automatic number plate recognition at the port gates and borders eliminates manual data capture and reduces the dwell times at the borders and port gates.

Integrated Scanner Command Centre
An information board at the Integrated Scanner Command Centre. Photo: Twitter/KRACare

According to TradeMark East Africa, “RECTS brings along better cross border coordination and transit monitoring, improved voluntary compliance with transit laws and regulations. It also ensures that minimal costs are used in enforcement hence better revenue collection.”

There is also an aspect of transparency in cargo tracking since stakeholders are given access to the system and an alarm is triggered whenever there is a diversion from the designated route or an unusually long stopover.


RECTS was mentioned in a secret blueprint created by Japanese firm Fujitsu which was leaked to the Sun newspaper.

Named the ‘Drive Through Border Concept’, the plan ensures there is no need for any physical checks on the border or hard infrastructure. Instead, a tracking system monitors vehicles on designated routes as they cross from Northern Ireland to the Republic via GPS as well as number plate recognition cameras.

However, EU critics of the alternative arrangements to change the backstop have claimed the technology doesn’t yet exist to police the border and are years away from being developed to the required standard.

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