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Keep borders open

THERE is need for constant liaison between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to forestall impasses that inhibit trade through the common international border points.
For a long time, Kasumbalesa border post between Zambia and Lubumbashi in the DRC has been the hotspot for truckers being marooned.
Fortunately, these are often resolved relatively quickly, albeit after a lot of lost time, especially for importers and exporters.
But now, the problems of trucks being marooned have taken a different turn with the Kipushi border being the spotlight.
About 200 trucks are marooned at Kipushi on the Zambian side following an impasse between clearing agents and authorities in the DRC.
The truck drivers have parked their motor vehicles at Kipushi on the Zambian side because they are not being cleared over allegations that their goods are being undervalued.
What is particularly worrisome is that it has taken an unusually long time to resolve the matter. The trucks have been marooned at the border for over three weeks.
Not only is this a loss of business, but it is also a security and health risk for the truck drivers.
The marooning of the truck drivers has exposed the lack of services at the border as it has no running water and sanitary facilities such as toilets.
It is a pity that it has taken three weeks for authorities from either side – Zambia and DRC – to resolve a matter which requires urgent attention.
The three weeks the truckers have spent in Kipushi doing nothing has translated into the loss of man hours for the drivers and the motor vehicles.
The slowdown is unacceptable because it translates into an economic slowdown whose impact could go way beyond the three weeks lost so far.
For instance, some of the goods being transported could be raw materials needed to keep the engines of manufacturing plants running. The ripple-effects are huge.
The civic leadership and district administration should have taken it upon themselves to find a solution within a week when it was discovered that trucks were marooned.
If they were unable to resolve the matter at their level, they should have escalated the matter provincial or even national level.
The Zambia-DRC joint permanent commission (JPC) on defence and security is in place preciously because of such challenges. It should be used to unlock the impasse.
Given the warm rapport between the two countries, challenges should be resolved much faster than it has taken in this case. Even if the challenge may be on one side of the border, a collective solution is needed.
The input of both authorities should help resolve the problem and get the trucks rolling across the border without much fuss.
It would be even better if such problems are prevented from happening in the first place. While it is virtually impossible to have a flawless flow of traffic, being proactive could significantly reduce border friction.
There is also need for Zambia and the DRC to be in constant touch with other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) considering that their goods pass through this border, too.
So the impact of the impasse at this border post, and indeed all other border points, affects many other countries.
There is need to also pay more attention to facilities at all border points in terms of staffing levels as well as having wellness centres and attendant infrastructure to support cross-border trade.
Besides, Zambia has identified the DR Congo as a strategic market for Zambia.
Government has prioritised international trade to stimulate inclusive growth and development in key sectors of the economy and to create jobs for the Zambian people.
That is why Government has proposed to realise this in the operationalisation of bilateral trade agreements with neighbouring countries such as the DRC and Angola through the establishment of trade centres at borders of major non-traditional markets, among them Kipushi in the newly-created Mushindamo district and Kasumbalesa.
The marooned trucks at Kipushi is a wake-up call to Government departments connected to trade, especially cross-border.