Lovemore Ranga Mataire Senior Writer
President Mnangagwa is today set to join his regional colleagues – Ian Khama Seretse Khama of Botswana and Edgar Lungu of Zambia – to inspect progress on the multi-million-dollar Kazungula Bridge in Kasane, which upon completion will enhance intra-regional trade within the SADC region and beyond.
While some observers have questioned President Mnangagwa’s involvement in the bilateral project between Botswana and Zambia, the truth is that the Kazungula Bridge represents the triumph of regional integration and cooperation as the infrastructure has ripple benefits to SADC.
This will be President Mnangagwa’s second visit to Botswana since his inauguration last November. The President visited Botswana last month after being invited by President Khama during which various economic cooperation deals were signed between the two countries.
Besides the obvious economic benefits to be accrued through easy passage of freight and passengers, President Mnangagwa’s presence at Kasane is part of his administration’s broader vision of embracing intra-regional trade and maintaining cordial relations with neigbouring countries.
Many challenges had impinged construction of the bridge including the frosty relations between Zimbabwe and its two neighbouring countries over the specific boundary and site of the bridge. The political uneasiness between Zimbabwe and Botswana during President Mugabe’s era also affected cooperation on the project.
ED’s attendance at the monitoring ceremony will be the ultimate symbolical gesture of goodwill by his administration and confirmation that he is ready to take Zimbabwe on a different trajectory.
Not so long ago, the governments of Zambia and Botswana concluded a joint US$300 million venture to build a 920-metre rail and road bridge at Kasane. The site where the bridge is being constructed is a unique historical and geographical phenomenon.
It is as if the Creator deliberately crafted a confluence where the Chobe River that divides Namibia and Botswana meets the mighty Zambezi with Zambia being across, while Zimbabwe which takes a large chunk of the Zambezi, parallels Botswana.
When viewed from space, the site where the four countries supposedly meet is a marvel and has over the years been a source of contention as the four countries could not conclusively agree on the exact demarcation of borders.
According to NASA’s earth observatory data, the precise number of international “tripoints” is difficult to determine because of inherent political disputes. A United Nations registry lists 176 places where the borders of three countries meet. China is listed as having the highest number of tripoints for one country, with Austria -a relatively small country – having nine tripoints.
However, the Kazungula confluence is listed by NASA as the place where the world’s most notable tripoints fall in the middle of the Zambezi River, near the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The tripoints are shown on a satellite image of the Zambezi River, which was captured by the Operational Land Imager. Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana come together at the easterly point.
Interestingly, there have been a few international incidents revolving round this particular quadripoint or near-quadripoint. In 1970, South Africa (which at the time occupied Namibia), informed Botswana that there was no common border between Botswana and Zambia, claiming that a quadripoint existed.
South Africa at the time claimed the Kazungula Ferry, which links Botswana and Zambia at the quadripoint, was illegal. Botswana firmly rejected both claims and confrontation ensued during which shots were fired at the ferry. Years later, the Rhodesian army attacked and sank the ferry, maintaining that it was serving military purposes. The matter had to be settled by one Ian Brownlie, who put the matter to rest in 1979 by stating the possibility of a quadripoint could not be definitely ruled out.
Brownlie, who died in a car accident in Cairo on January 3, 2010, was described by the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper as “one of Britain’s leading international lawyers”, with a long career as practising, authoritative scholar and “progressive activist”.
It has since been agreed that the international boundaries contain two tripoints joined by a line roughly 150 metres long forming a boundary between Zambia and Botswana. The ever-shifting river channels and the lack of any known agreements addressing the issue before 2000 led to some uncertainty in the past to the legality of a quadripoint existence.
Given the fact that the construction of the bridge has been on the cards since 1999, it is only logical that the three countries that initially consummated the idea be present to appreciate the progress thus far made in making the easy passage to Zambia and beyond a reality after years of political haggling.
As it stands, Botswana has only about 150 metres of river frontage on the Zambezi, being sandwiched on the south bank between the extreme tip of Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and Zimbabwe.
Besides not being part to the funding and construction of the bridge, Zimbabwe geographically benefits from the hive of economic activity likely to be spurred by easy passage given its proxim- ity.
The project is expected to reduce the time taken to cross the border from 30 hours to six hours on average and lower the cost of crossing the border and trade between Botswana and Zambia is naturally going to increase.
According to the 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.
It is also critical to note that upon its completion the bridge will be an enabling infrastructure for the North-South Corridor and 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.
The economies of SADC of which Botswana and Zambia are major players who contribute nearly 40 percent of the GDP of sub-Saharan African, equivalent to US$340 billion, according to 2007 figures.
So in making his presence at the monitoring event, President Mnangagwa is not only sending positive regional signals but is also acknowledging the adage of being your neighbour’s keeper. He is also extending his magnanimity beyond our borders. The economic growth of Botswana or Zambia or any other country has serious contagion effect on the whole region.
It is also crucial to note that the construction of the bridge insignificantly affects trucks passing through Beitbridge as some transporters will still find the Beitbridge-Chirundu route viable particularly when travelling to Malawi or Lusaka. Zimbabwe needs to complement the Kazungula route by speedily working on the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway.
Crossing the Zambezi River by a pontoon at Kazungula, according to people who live around the area, has always been a nightmare. Many accidents have occurred with hundreds of people including former Zambian southern province minister Maimbolwa Sakubita, have lost their lives when the pontoon capsized in the 1970s.
Another 15 more people, mostly Zambians that included women and children, perished when a South African heavy-duty truck overturned, throwing passengers on board the pontoon into the crocodile-infested and fast-flowing Zambezi River.
Given the fact that the bridge will connect Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, the DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe, it is without doubt that it will boost regional economies through increased traffic throughput on the North-South Corridor, increased global competitiveness of goods as a function of reduced time-based trade and transport costs and a reduction of transit time from three days to less than half a day.