Kazungula: More than a bridge
SOMETIMES a bridge can be more than just a structure made of concrete and steel.
Bridges play a crucial role in various aspects of modern life, enabling people to visit each other, get to shops, schools, hospitals or work. Basically enabling people to move from one point to another for different reasons.
But a bridge becomes more than just an engineering structure which connects two places when it plays a central role in the development of a community, country or region.
Bridges’ impact become huge and far-reaching when they support the movement of goods and services on a large scale — becoming a transport and trade route; contributing to economic development.
This is certainly the case with Kazungula Bridge across the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers at a unique geographical point where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet.
The US$260 million road-rail project will be commissioned on Monday by the presidents of Botswana and Zambia, Mokgweetsi Masisi and Edgar Lungu respectively. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa will also attend.
Technically, Zimbabwe is part of the project, although it did not invest a dime. Tellingly, when the governments of Botswana and Zambia this week exchanged pleasantries over their growing “strategic partnership”, there was no mention of Zimbabwe.
While the project will be of immense regional benefit, it is, however, bad news for Zimbabwe: from Monday it loses its historical advantages as a strategically positioned economic player on Sadc’s north-south trade corridor.
Regionally, the project will benefit the local population in the area by providing an improved border crossing facility between Botswana and Zambia across the Zambezi River. This will reduce crossing time and cut expenses by eliminating the current risky ferryboat arrangement.
The project has already created employment opportunities during the construction period and guarantees long-term jobs in the area due to the anticipated development of local businesses, transport and trade activities, and cross-border economic undertakings.
At a higher level, the infrastructural project is of strategic importance to enhance transport links, trade and economic activities between the two countries and other Sadc states, especially to the north.
The multi-million-dollar project, which began in 2014, was conceived as a bypass to Zimbabwe and its main port of entry Beitbridge border post, sub-Saharan Africa’s busiest gateway.
The 923-metre-long bridge is expected to ease the movement of goods and people, while reducing the transit times considerably, hence consolidating regional integration, trade facilitation and economic development.
But all this will happen at the expense of Zimbabwe, whose historical advantages were embedded in British colonial empire-builder Cecil Rhodes’s Cape-to-Cairo dream.
The Cape-to-Cairo dream was anchored on the idea of building a railway line connecting Africa from south to north. It would have been the largest and most important railway infrastructure on the continent. It was planned as a link between Cape Town in South Africa and Port Said in Egypt.
Zimbabwe, already a hub for transport routes to the north, would have been the gateway.
Rhodes treated Zimbabwe, which he named Southern Rhodesia after himself and then just Rhodesia after the independence of Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) in 1964, as personal property.
Currently, the operational length of the railway is 5 625 kilometres out of a total 10 489 kilometres that was expected to be built from the south to the north of the continent. The operational status of sections of the railway are as follows:
· South-western section: from Cape Town, passing through Kimberley, Mahikeng (formerly Mafikeng) in South Africa, Gaborone and Francistown in Botswana, to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe;
· South-eastern section: from Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) pass through Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Musina in South Africa, to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; and
· South-central section: Bulawayo line to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Livingstone, Lusaka and Ndola, Zambia, and Sakania, Lubumbashi, Tenke, Bukama, Kamina, Kabalo and Kindu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As shown by these rail corridors, Zimbabwe was the regional hub and gateway to the region.
However, all these hitherto unchallenged advantages will end on Monday.
“Zimbabwe certainly stands to lose out in a big way from the Kazungula project,” a regional trade expert told The NewsHawks.
“The project, which incorporates one-stop-border post facilities in Zambia and Botswana, will serve as an alternative to the existing route at Chirundu linking Zambia and Zimbabwe. The new bridge replaces the existing ferry system which has low carrying capacity, is risky and limits cross-border traffic flow. It will boost regional trade and economic integration.
“However, Zimbabwe will be badly affected. Its monopoly as the gateway to the north will cease to exist. Traffic volumes, especially of commercial transport, will inevitably decline given that the new route is shorter and likely to be more efficient. This means loss of many economic advantages, including revenue.”
Freight and passenger transit time is projected to be significantly reduced due to improved border management operations arising from the one-stop-border facilities.
The expert went further: “It will be an irony for Mnangagwa or any Zimbabwean to celebrate a project which will certainly undermine the country’s economic interest.”
Mnangagwa claims Zimbabwe is part of the project. Technically, he is right as Zimbabwe shares the Zambezi River with Zambia. The Zimbabwean President said this week his government would soon build the Kazungula-Victoria Falls road to facilitate easy movement, transportation and tourism.
However, Botswana and Zambia publicly say it is their project since they were involved in it from start to finish. They also funded it with partners without Zimbabwe.
But when inspection of the project was done in 2018 by former Botswana president Ian Khama and Lungu, Mnangagwa also attended.
During the inspection, Botswana and Zambia agreed to allow Zimbabwe to be technically part of the Kazungula bridge project in Phase II. Zimbabwe has rights to the Zambezi which it borders and shares with Zambia.
Zimbabwe and Zambia form the Zambezi River Authority involved in the management of Kariba Dam and water resources in the Zambezi Basin.
The source of the Zambezi River – the fourth longest river in Africa after the Nile, Congo and Niger – lies at about 1 500 metres (4 900ft) above sea level in north-western Zambia’s Mwinilunga district, close to the border where Zambia, Angola and the DRC meet.
From there it flows through Zambia, Angola, Namibia and Botswana then back along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, finally discharging into the Indian Ocean at its delta in Mozambique. Its catchment basin is 1 390 000 square km, which is half that of the Nile.
The Zambezi, the longest east-flowing river in Africa, cascades through six countries on its 2 700-kilometre journey from its source in north-western Zambia to the Indian Ocean.
Things are already changing fast. Zambia this week relocated its customs operations from Livingstone port office to Kazungula one-stop-border post, and will start work there on Monday. It issued a public notice to the general public, transporters, exporters, importers and clearing agents notifying them.
This signifies a major shift of focus from the border with Zimbabwe through Victoria Falls to Kazungula.
Daewoo Engineering and Construction was the contractor of the project. Construction of the bridge began after the ground-breaking ceremony was held on the Botswana side by former Zambian vice-president Guy Scott, who was also acting president in 2014/2015 after Michael Sata’s death, and his Botswana ex-counterpart, Ponatshego Kedikilwe.
The project was financed partly through a loan of US$80m between Zambia and the African Development Bank. Botswana met part of the cost, while another partner, the Japan International Co-operation Agency, was on board.
Construction of the bridge commenced in December 2014 and the final inspection was undertaken by Botswana’s minister of Transport and Communications, Thulaganyo Segokgo and his Zambian counterpart, minister of Infrastructure Vincent Mwale, in October last year.
The project fits into the African Regional Transport Integration Network, the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa and the Sadc Transport Sector Plan which has four major programmes, namely:
· North‐south multimodal corridor;
· Central corridor;
· Beira and Nacala multimodal corridor; and
· Southern African hub port and rail programme.
A total of 208 projects are listed as part of the Sadc Transport Sector Modal Development Plan, consisting of:
· 18 border post projects;
· 72 road projects;
· 31 rail projects;
· 23 aviation projects; and
· 64 maritime and port projects.
“Zimbabwe needs be involved at all levels of regional development projects which have a bearing on its economy, development and geoeconomics. It must take part in the shaping of enabling policy/regulatory environment; border post infrastructure; road and rail infrastructure (new, upgrade and maintenance); aviation projects and ports and water transport facilities. On the Kazungula project, Botswana and Zambia are the winners; we are the losers,” the expert said.
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