The Kazungula Bridge project is set to open up the transport corridor between Zambia and Botswana, a move which will see Zimbabwe lose out on transit revenue. The project is being carried out with partial financial assistance from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The primary objective of the project is to improve the infrastructure at Kazungula to reduce transit time between borders. The project will facilitate increased trade activity, and improve the integration of the Zambia and Botswana economies, as well as their global competitiveness.
Three regional presidents; Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, Ian Khama of Botswana and Edgar Lungu of Zambia, over the weekend took the long trip 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.
And to cap the event, Zambia and Botswana agreed to allow Zimbabwe to join the Kazungula bridge project across the Zambezi river, in phase two of the works.
Until the Saturday meeting, Zimbabwe was not part of the multi-million project.
The development was revealed during a joint press briefing by Zambian Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela, Botswana Transport and Communication Minister Kitso Mokaila and Zimbabwean Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joram Gumbo.
All three countries furtherr agreed to set up a one-stop border post at Kazungula in Zambia's Southern province.
The decision was made after President Edgar Lungu held talks with Botswana’s President, Lieutenant-General Seretse Khama and Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Kazungula Bridge project is a multi-national project in the North-South Corridor and is part of an infrastructure improvement programme that covers the whole corridor.
The project includes a bridge linking Botswana and Zambia over the Zambezi River to replace the existing ferry, and a one-stop border facility at Kazungula.
This corridor is the busiest of all regional corridors in the SADC region, linking landlocked countries to the port of Durban, the regional hub for export and import. It will mostly benefit businesses engaged in the mining, agriculture and service sectors.
Costing $229,62 million it is co-financed by the Japanese Development Agency (JICA), in the form of loans to both Zambia and Botswana.
The Afdb finances Zambia only. Botswana and Zambia each provide counterpart financing.
While some observers have questioned President Mnangagwa’s involvement in the bilateral project between Botswana and Zambia, the Kazungula Bridge could also be seen as a triumph of regional integration and cooperation.
Many challenges had impinged construction of the bridge including the frosty relations between Zimbabwe and its two neighbours over the specific boundary and site of the bridge.
Political uneasiness between Zimbabwe and Botswana during President Mugabe’s era also affected cooperation on the project.
The bridge is shaped like an overstretched half-moon, with its belly elongating into the Namibian territory so as to avoid Zimbabwean territory.
Asked about the awkward shape, a Botswana government official said: “There was a dispute with Zimbabwe, which then was under Robert Mugabe and he refused passage of the bridge through his territory.
"It was supposed to be 600 metres long, but we had to institute design alterations and have its belly stretch into Namibia, which agreed to the arrangement, before curving into Zambia. The changes to the bridge design saw it stretching to 923 metres,” explained the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
As it stands, Botswana has only about 150 m 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 of the funding and construction of the bridge, Zimbabwe could still benefit from economic activity spurred by the easy passage the bridge will provide. The development is expected to reduce the time taken to cross the border from 30 hours to six hours.
Apart from reduced transit time for freight and passengers, the bridge is expected to improve border management operations arising from the new one-stop border facilities. Increased traffic is anticipated along the North-South Corridor once the bridge is open.
It will also boost economies of SADC countries by linking South Africa's port city of Durban to landlocked Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, DRC and Tanzania.
Botswana and Zambia are major players who contribute nearly 40% of the GDP of sub-Saharan African, equivalent to $340-billion, according to 2007 figures.
The handover of the project to the two governments is expected in March 2019.