Mmegionline, 4July 2013
The governments of Botswana and Zambia have announced the commencement of the first stage of construction of the Kazungula Bridge across the Chobe River.
The importance of the bridge to the two countries and the SADC region cannot be gainsaid. When complete, the bridge will ensure that for the first time, the SADC region is connected by road. The Chobe River forms the only boundary between Botswana and Zambia and over the years, this has slowed down the movement of people and goods from the southern parts of the SADC region to the north.
The water boundary meant that besides the air, the alternative and popular transport link between Botswana and Zambia was through the ageing or unreliable ferries that were prone to breakdowns. This lead to a pile-up during peak periods when the number of trucks carrying goods to and from factories and ports of regional economic giant South Africa overwhelm the carrying capacity of the ferries. But with the construction of the bridge to replace the slow and unreliable ferries, things are likely to change for the better. The Chobe River is vital in the region because in the Kazungula-Kasane area, it straddles the border between Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Plans to build the vital bridge have been on the cards for approximately two decades. Initially, Zimbabwe was to be part of the project but because of its well-known economic and political problems, it was left out though it will benefit from the facility.
With loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), it can only be concluded that the bridge will be completed in the next five years. We hope that all stakeholders will come together and put all mechanisms in place to curb corruption and any form of theft that a project of this magnitude may attract. We hope that each and every stage of the project will be monitored and fully accounted for. It is also our hope that the best contractors will be awarded the project to complete it within time and budget. We are tired of losing billions to overnight contractors who dump our projects midway leaving shoddy work behind. We hope the JICA and AfDB will use their position and influence to ensure that they get value for their money.
Once completed, this bridge will make trade within the SADC region and beyond, more endurable and less expensive, as compared to the current situation in which truck drivers spend nights in queues waiting for the pontoons to ferry them across the Chobe River. Some of these trucks carry perishable goods destined for distant customers, and it is a nightmare for the drivers to watch days and nights pass before they can cross to the other side of the Chobe River. The construction of the bridge comes at a time when experts on trade have advised that Africa needs to invest in infrastructure for faster economic growth.
Since the project is going to attract migrant workers from many countries, we hope that residents around the Kazungula-Kasane area will take care of themselves and make the project a blessing instead of a curse.