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The economic rationale of the US$260m Kazungula Bridge

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NOTES from a meeting of the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, hosted by the African Development Bank (AfDB), on Kazungula road-rail bridge over a decade ago shed light on the economic rationale of the project and likely massive benefits for Botswana and Zambia.

The bridge is built at the quadripoint of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Initially, it was supposed be a project for Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but Harare tried in vain under the late former president Robert Mugabe’s regime to sabotage the development and ended up being left out.

As a result the bridge, which was supposed to be constructed mainly on Zimbabwean territory as that was the most suitable site for it, ended up curving into Namibian territory from Botswana to Zambia. This made the bridge longer and more costly.

The total cost for the Kazungula Bridge was initially estimated at US$70 million, with an additional US$30 million required for the border control facilities. Nippon Koei and Oriental Consultants had estimated that construction would take four years, excluding engineering studies, but it took six years. There were delays due to Covid-19 disruptions.

They also estimated total project revenues of up to US$605 million over a period of 30 years, resulting in a Financial Internal Rate of Return between 5% and 14%, depending on the toll rate.

The project’s development objective was to improve efficiency of transit traffic through the Kazungula border to facilitate and increase trade activities and global competitiveness of Botswana and Zambia; improve regional connectivity through the North-South Corridor; and contribute to regional integration.

The expected outcomes included: reduced border transit time; improved procedures on trade facilitation; better border management operations; and consequently more traffic throughput, as well as reduced time-based transport and trade cost.

“The Zambezi River is a significant barrier to the movement of goods in Southern Africa. Virtually all traffic between South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo, Tanzania and Malawi depends on this specific transport corridor,” ICA minutes say.

“The construction of the Kazungula Bridge would enhance transport operations along the regional north-south corridor, which links the mineral-rich regions of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Botswana and the port of Durban in South Africa.

“Forecasts of traffic patterns following construction of the Kazungula Bridge predict that, by 2015 traffic crossing the Zambezi will grow between 1.75 times (low growth scenario) and 2.56 times (high growth scenario).

“In addition, the construction of the Kazungula Bridge will most likely promote local industry in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The reduction of local transportation costs will potentially lead to the reduction of consumer prices of agricultural products, as well as the development of socio-economic activities at community level. This increase in local economic activity can result in an increase of tax revenues for the local government.”

The minutes added: “At present, transportation across the Zambezi River is conducted at two river bridges: the Chirundu Bridge and Victoria Falls Bridge, both located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. These two routes have the problem that steep and winding sections act as transportation bottlenecks, and complicated customs clearances are causing further delays at the border. Therefore, in recent years many vehicles have shifted their route to the Kazungula crossing.

“As traffic to the Kazungula crossing increases year by year, it is expected that the project will greatly contribute to the regional economic development and integration of the Sadc economy, since the project is directly related to the overall Botswana/Zambia north-south Corridor improvement study currently conducted by Sadc and outside consultants.”

Botswana and Zambia are both major member states of Sadc and they both play an important economic role in the region.

However, free movement of trade goods and people between the two countries has been obstructed due to lack of a reliable road network across the Zambezi River. The Kazungula bridge could significantly contribute to the reduction of the number of bottlenecks that are hindering further trade and integration.

In 2018, four years after the project had started, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was invited to a ceremony at the bridge with his Botswana and Zambian counterparts where he was given an opportunity to re-join.

Mnangagwa was also invited to the official commissioning of the bridge on Monday.

However, Zimbabwe is currently negotiating for a tripartite agreement in which it would make an equal contribution and be allowed back. After preliminary studies which date back to 2001, on 29 October 2006, the governments of Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the detailed study of the Kazungula Bridge.

On 21 November 2006, the AfDB approved a grant amounting to US$ 2.2 million for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) north-south corridor improvement study, which includes the Kazungula Bridge.

The Sadc secretariat was the implementing agency for the study whose objective was to prepare an update on the economic feasibility, detailed engineering design, and tender documents for the Kazungula Bridge and other key infrastructure facilities along the trade corridor within Botswana and Zambia.

The overall coordination of the study was administered by the Joint Steering Committee, chaired by the Executive Secretary of Sadc and comprising the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Works and Transport (Botswana), permanent secretary for the Ministry of Works and Supply (Zambia), a representative of the secretary of Ministry of Finance (Botswana) and a representative of the secretary of Ministry of Finance and National Planning (Zambia).

Zimbabwe was not represented at the steering committee. The committee was involved in the review of interim reports for the studies and held its last meeting on 26 February 2007.

In the spring of 2008, Sadc finished the design study of the Kazungula Bridge, at which point final development plans were finalised.

According to the financial and economic evaluation conducted under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) study, the high internal rate of return suggested that the project had the potential to attract private funding under such arrangements as the Build-Own-Transfer.

Botswana and Zambia hoped that construction would begin in the summer of 2008.

The project cost US$259.3 was funded through a co-financing arrangement between Botswana and Zambia, and Jica.

In August 2007, the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to construct a bridge to replace the existing ferry system.

Construction of the project, which includes international border facilities in Zambia and Botswana, officially began on 12 October 2014.

It ended in December 2020. Construction supervision was awarded to the Kazungula Bridge Consultants-Joint Venture comprising of Nippon Koei Co Ltd, Chodai Co Ltd, Gibb (Pty) Ltd, Bothakga Burrow Botswana (Pty) Ltd, CPP Botswana (Pty) Ltd and Zulu Burrow Development Consultants Ltd at a cost of US$15,7 million funded by Jica.

After six years amid delays, the bridge was commissioned on Monday – 10 May 2021. Opening was delayed due to Covid-19 pandemic issues.

The 923-metre-long (3 028 ft) by 18.5-metre-wide (61 ft) bridge has a longest span of 129 metres (423 ft) and links the town of Kazungula in Zambia with Kasane in Botswana.

Kazungula is a small border town in Zambia, lying on the north bank of the Zambezi River about 70 kilometres west of Livingstone on the M10 Road. At Kazungula, the territories of four countries come close to meeting at a quadripoint.

Kasane is a town in the north-eastern corner of Botswana, near the border.

The bridge feature a single-line railway track between two traffic lanes and pavements for pedestrians, and connects to the Mosetse-Kazungula-Livingstone Railway. — STAFF WRITER 

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