In what will further cement and restore strained relations between China and Botswana, China Railway Seventh Group Co Ltd has managed to complete the Francistown Thapama Interchange commonly known as The Spaghetti, on time and within projected budget despite unfavourable weather conditions. The timely completion observation was made by minister of Transport and Communications Kitso Mokaila at the official opening of The Spaghetti last week (March 10, 2018), performed by President Ian Khama. The interchange has replaced a traffic roundabout commonly known as the Thapama Circle. Commending the remarkable landmark, Mokaila said the Spaghetti is the first of its type in the country and greatly adds to aesthetic feature of Francistown. "It also adds to the improved road network of Botswana, with the interchange forming an integral part of the greater corridor to the north, which will ease traffic flow and augment trade,’’he said. The project has been hailed by Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo as a masterpiece and of high quality. The presence of the Ambassador of the Republic of China to Botswana Dr Zhao Yanbo could not be missed as he proudly witnessed the workmanship of the contractor from his homeland, and was the main overseer. Yanbo, who attended the official opening ceremony at the invitation of Botswana Government, had in February, 2017 paid an inspection visit to the project and urged the Chinese contractor -China Railway Seventh Group Co, Ltd- to construct a project of high quality. The interchange project is the first in Botswana and the most important part of the upgrade program of the Tonato-Francistown Dual Carriage Way. It took three years to complete and employed over 500 people per month.
Amongst dignatories were the Mayor Sylvia Muzila , councillors and council staff. The President’s entourage included Ministers, Members of Parliament and Senior Government officials. Officially opening The Spaghetti, President Ian Khama said the project was well-done, adding that the interchange will ease traffic congestion and facilitate trade between Botswana and other SADC countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe to the north.The Spaghetti, Khama noted, would yield great benefits and open business opportunities in Francistown and beyond. Khama observed that the interchange has been designed to reduce maintenance costs and travelling time by allowing free flow of traffic. An improved transport system will ease congestion on local roads caused by an explosion of traffic volumes, which are constantly on the increase annually. Congestion is further compounded by heavy trucks transporting goods to and from countries north and south of Botswana. Statistics shows that in 2017 alone 53, 218 vehicles were registered bringing the total number of registered vehicles in the country to 715, 169. From January 2018, an additional 8 664 have already been registered. Khama's demeanour on Saturday was a far cry from his scathing attack against the Chinese just six months ago when he told them to take a hike after the Government of China warned that Botswana would be undermining their bilateral relations should she welcome the Dalai Lama on her soil. In what would have amounted to poking a middle finger at the Chinese Government, Botswana opened doors and rolled the red carpet to the exiled controversial Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama- China's enemy No 1 in August 2017. The visit was aborted at the last minute.
Never the one to pass up an opportunity to take a potshot at those he disagrees with, Khama was back in his element during a farewell ceremony in Lobatse on Wednesday. He criticised China's ruling communist party's recent resolution to remove presidential term limits for Xi Jinping, thus allowing him to remain in office indefinitely. "With a population of just 2.3 million, Botswana has many capable citizens who can become Presidents, hence the reason I will pave the way for (Vice President Mokgweetsi) Masisi on April 01. The reluctance by some Presidents to step down is selfish and wrong. Surely with a population of 1.4 billion, China has enough people who are capable of becoming presidents," quipped Khama. The relationship between the two countries turned sour after Chinese contractors were repeatedly accused of poor worksmaship, which culminated with failure to deliver critical projects on time and within budget, including Shakawe Senior Secondary school, the expansion of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport terminal, the Fengyue Glass project in Palapye and Morupule B power station among many others. The failed projects cost Botswana Government billions of pula, plunging the country into total darkness due to heavy load shedding episodes, lost job creation and missed opportunities in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. At its all time low, Botswana imposed prohibitive immigration requirements on Chinese nationals and potential investors, accusing them of flooding the local market with sub-standard products and fong kong projects. The fallout degenerated into a diplomatic tiff between the two, when Botswana repeatedly made snide remarks about China's foreign policy particularly on the South China Sea debacle, limited freedoms of Chinese nationals and later persecution of the Dalai Lama.