JIMMY CHIBUYE,Â Kasane, Botswana
PRESIDENT Lungu says Zambia wants an expeditious completion of the multi-million dollar 923-metre Kazungula railroad bridge because it will promote regional integration, and increase trade and economic growth within Africa and beyond.
He and his Botswana counterpart Lieutenant-General Ian Khama yesterday inspected the Kanzungula Bridge project.
The President also said Zambia and Botswana will closely monitor the progress of the project because the two countries have promised citizens that they will stick to the contractual period.
President Lungu said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has embarked on regional integration, and the bridge project is a way to integrate the region and promote trade within Africa.
Mr Lungu was speaking at a joint press briefing with Lt-Gen Khama at Cresta Mowana Safari Lodge shortly after inspecting the Kanzungula Bridge construction here yesterday.
â€œSeveral times we look beyond Africa in terms of trade including political influence but at the end of it all we see this [bridge] as a mark of bonding between Zambia and Botswana in trade, economic growth and prosperity for our people,â€ he said.
The US$259.3 million bridge, which will be constructed across the Zambezi River, is being undertaken by Zambia and Botswana with financial assistance from the Japan International Co-operation Agency and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The bridge will also have two one-stop border posts on either side in Zambia and Botswana.
Construction works of the bridge started in 2014 and was expected to be completed in December last year, but the completion time has been extended to 2019 due to operational challenges.
President Lungu believes the successful completion of the bridge will enhance trade within the SADC region and beyond.
He said the Kazungula Bridge project is not intended to benefit Botswana and Zambia alone but â€˜invite and exciteâ€™ investment from outside so that Africa can start trading within itself.
Mr Lungu also thanked the contractor Daewoo Engineering and Construction of South Korea for keeping a clean safety record and encouraged them to keep up with same safety measures.
President Lungu further said he appreciates the challenges Botswana is facing in opening the rail road and challenged experts in environmental protection and designing and implementation to find a solution.
â€œI am sure something can be done to sustain a balance between our wildlife, fauna and rail road because this part of Botswana (Kasane) has got an impeccable record of wildlife and tourism and we would not like to sacrifice the environment that we have sustained so well in Botswana at the expense of bringing prosperity,â€ Mr Lungu said.
And Lt-Gen Khama said the completion of the bridge will further enhance relations between the two countries and foster the already existing economic prosperity and trade.
He said the bridge will be a best example of regional integration which the SADC bloc has embarked on in promoting trade within Africa.
The project has employed 640 workers, comprising 542 locals and 98 expatriates.
Earlier, Botswana Minister of Transport and Communications Kitso Mokaila said once completed, the bridge will reduce time and transport costs currently faced when crossing the border.
Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela said during the inspection that it is gratifying that the two countries are committed to completing the project.
President Lungu left Botswana from Kasane International Airport and was seen off by Lt-Gen Khama, Mr Chitotela, Minister of Transport and Communication Brian Mushimba and other senior government officials from both countries.
And CHIMWEMWE MWALE reports that President Lungu has described his two-day working visit to Botswana as a resounding success.
The President said the construction of the Kazungula Bridge will boost trade between Zambia and Botswana and enhance regional integration.
Mr Lungu told journalists yesterday on return from Botswana that Zambia will also improve her trade beyond the regional once the project is completed.
â€œThe regional integration programme in SADC and beyond will be realised and we are talking about Africa integration and thatâ€™s the way to go and so for me, we are going to expedite the programme and ensure that we meet the schedule,â€ he said.
JIMMY CHIBUYE,Â Kasane, Botswana