ANALYSIS: DOREEN NAWA
SOON scenes of cross border traders both men and women, travellers, fishermen and young people crossing the Zambezi River on floating planks, ferries, rickshaw boats and canoes will be history.
For years ferries have been used to cross the river. It takes transporters more than eight days at times to navigate, impacting negatively on trade.
For those that have not been to Kazungula in a while, getting there now gives hope that developing reliable and state of the art cross-border infrastructure to develop in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Africa as a whole is possible.
A key road and rail bridge crossing over the Zambezi River called the Kazungula Bridge along the North –South Corridor (NSC) is nearing completion.
The NSC directly serves the economies of eight out of 16 SADC countries, and the Kazungula road and Rail Bridge over the Zambezi River is a key trade route linking the port of Durban in South Africa to the inland countries of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, the DRC, and Mozambique and up to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
The development has been facilitated by a tripartite arrangement between Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe on the NSC within the SADC region.
It is part of a corridor-long infrastructure improvement programme, to enhance regional trade and integration in the region and beyond.
In just 24 months or less, travelling between the water-rich but land-locked Zambia and Botswana will get easier, smoother and faster when the new road and rail bridge, currently under construction across the waters of the Zambezi, is commissioned for public use.
The 923 metre-long by 18.5-metre-wide masterpiece will link the town of Kazungula in Zambia with Botswana.
Its location traverses the intersection of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers. At this point, four countries – Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – meet.
Once complete, the Kazungula Bridge Project will have a single-line railway track, pavement for pedestrians and international border facilities: two One-Stop Border Posts, located on Botswana and Zambian territories.
The bridge will be connected to the Mosetse (Botswana)- Kazungula (Zambia) Railway.
The project is one of several projects under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).
PIDA is a strategic continental initiative which has the buy-in of all African countries, for mobilizing resources to transform Africa through modern infrastructure.
Under PIDA, there are 51 cross-border infrastructure projects comprising more than 400 actionable sub-projects across four main infrastructure sectors, namely energy, transport, transboundary water and ICT.
No doubt, once completed, the Kazungula Bridge Project will actually bridge the regional divide.
The project will transform the dynamics of transportation in surrounding communities, counties and cities, boosting road travel and the ease of doing business within the SADC region and beyond.
Trade has been a major driver of Africa’s economic growth and receives increasing emphasis in regional and national development plans.
Shippers demand high performing corridors that reduce cost and time spent on transport and logistics and increase the reliability and predictability of the corridors. Hence trade facilitation is key to continued trade growth.
Following feasibility studies and funding approval for the nearly US$260 million project by the board of the African Development Bank in 2011, construction began in 2014 after the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to build a bridge, replacing the existing Kazungula ferry service.
The principal financiers of the project include the governments of Zambia and Botswana, the African Development Bank, the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund grant and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Zimbabwe was brought on board the project as a stakeholder in March 2018 after President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, President Ian Khama of Botswana and President Edgar Lungu jointly inspected the progress of the multi-million-dollar project.
Progress is not only visible on the Kazungula Bridge Project, but this project is proof of the consensus and focus on infrastructure development amongst regional and continental stakeholders is possible and must be prioritised.
In southern Africa, transport costs are adversely impacted by the opportunity costs of delays at border crossings, weighbridges, and ports, and by lengthy customs processes.
Simulations suggest that reducing border delays can reduce transport costs significantly.
For instance, delays at Beit Bridge on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe and Chirundu, a border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe have resulted in a significant economic drain.
Beit Bridge is the busiest border post in the region, handling as many as 500 trucks a day; delays for northbound traffic are 34 hours and for southbound traffic 11 hours.
Evidence from the Chirundu border indicates that it takes northbound traffic approximately 39 hours to cross the border and southbound traffic 14 hours.
The total cost of trucks standing at these two border posts is over US$60 million per year.
When costs of standing at other borders such as Groblersbrug and Martins Drift and Kazungula are factored, the costs increase by as much as an additional US$100 million per annum.
It is against this backdrop that the Kazungula Bridge Project will positively contribute towards addressing the many challenges the region faces in the transportation of goods and services.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail Reporter.
ANALYSIS: DOREEN NAWA