The completion of the road and rail bridge linking Zambia and Botswana – the Kazungula Bridge and One-Stop Border Post over the Zambezi River – has been hailed as the solution to the congestion prevalent at border crossings, and an avenue for bolstering the trade aspects of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
The construction of the project, which was commenced in 2014, cost a mammoth $259 million. It stretches for a remarkable 923 meters (about 3,000 feet). This has provided freight truckers with some much-needed reprieve as they were agonizingly subjected to the delays at the Beitbridge border. The construction was jointly funded with capital from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), regional governments, and other grants. The new bridge, adorned with modernistic architectural features, is a long shot in the arm for freight truckers – who can now travel from South Africa directly to Lusaka through Botswana, thus bypassing Zimbabwe.
Truckers moving goods from South Africa to Zambia had to pass through Zimbabwe via the tightly and perpetually congested Beitbridge border. Freight truckers transporting goods from the Durban port through to the whole Southern Africa and other markets up north endure on average 27 hours pf the trip, and this timeframe is the same whether one opts for the Botswana or Zimbabwe route. Because of how cluttered the Beitbridge border is, depending on the badness of the congestion or time of the year, such delays added more travel hours for the freight truckers. On a daily basis, about 250 trucks pass through the bridge.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Zambia’s president Edgar Lungu conveyed his optimism regarding the importance and success of the bridge to African countries. Typical of African leaders, however, his remarks were couched in the language of neoliberal interests. “This will lower the cost of doing business,” he proclaimed as he threw in his forecast of an “increase in trade and competitiveness, job creation, tourism, and other positive ripple effects.” Botswana’s president heralded how the bridge will “open avenues for improved trade.” He promised to strengthen the bilateral ties between Botswana and Zambia to achieve a concerted effort for economic progress.
And perhaps the elation of SADC as a collective portends the most optimism. “The Kazungula Bridge is expected to link the port of Durban in South Africa to the DRC and the United Republic of Tanzania through the North-South Corridor to facilitate the seamless and efficient movement of goods and persons,” the regional body said. It is hoped the bridge will help fulfill the tenets of trade liberalization, industrialization, and regional integration.
And this is how we can glean the vitality of the new bridge – it is a bold statement of Africa’s willingness to pursue its own initiatives that are perceived to aid in the development and progress of the continent.
The methods of procuring the funds for such a project may be questionable (as dependency on foreign superpowers is reinforced through such mega developmental projects). But the fact that such a project has come to fruition means that there is always room for solutions addressing contextual problems. That alone is a good starting point.