The multi-national and border crossing Kazungula Bridge at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe river is expected to be complete by March 2019.
This was revealed by the Project Manager Pius Seone, last week when Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi and other senior government officials toured the project to appreciate progress. Morupisi's visit follows another in January when he was accompanied by Permanent Secretaries and Accounting Officers of independent departments.
The 923m long bridge will incorporate One-Stop-Border facilities where Zambia and Botswana Immigration and customs authorities will exercise control under one roof on both sides of the border.
According to Botswana government, the envisaged benefits of the bridge include reduced transit time for freight and passengers, reduced time-based trade and transport costs, improved border management operations arising from the new one-stop border facilities and increased traffic throughput along the North-South Corridor.
This corridor is the busiest of all regional corridors in the SADC region. Upon completion, the bridge will serve the economies of eight SADC countries and a key trade route linking the port of Durban in South Africa to the inland countries of Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, the DRC up to Tanzania.
High hopes, but...
Some observers have warned that it may be too early to celebrate for the partners of the bridge projects as economic returns may not be guaranteed. They note that the North South Corridor has another branch, which goes through Victoria Falls Bridge and Chirundu at the dam end of Kariba. The distance from Durban to Lusaka via Beit Bridge and Chirundu is 120 km shorter than via Kazungula, which may be a preferred route to cut transport/ logistical costs.
The journey is signifantly influenced by border controls which is why SADC has a programme to convert all borders to one stop border posts or OSBPs. It is to be stressed that Botswana is only a transit route and as such may not gain economic advantage, they argue. In fact the high cost, some USD 4 billion for the bridge road and rail improvements will never be recovered, they caution. There is no toll through Botswana so the tax payer has to pay the costs of road maintenance. Further, any traffic Botswana attracts in the short term from routes through Zimbabwe will divert back to Zimbabwe once they improve their road and rail infrastructure, which the new administration led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa is planning to do.
Observers advise that the Kazungula Bridge is a great project but it will only become meaningful if Botswana, Zambia and Namibia develop the upper Zambezi Chobe Sub Region. Transport development must be integrated with land development, they say. This is still not done in Africa. Simply building a bridge does not guarantee economic success.
Further more, this branch of the SADC North-South Corridor goes through the Chobe National Park which has the highest concentration of elephants and wildlife in the world. It is right that Business Botswana should be jubiliant about the Kazungula crossing of the Zambezi, but making it generate sustainable benefits requires careful planning.