Just a little longer
Finally, there is a light at the end of the “bridge” for truck drivers who have spent days on end waiting to cross the Zambezi River, at the Kazungula border between Zambia and Botswana. ANLERIE DE WET looks at the progress that has been made in constructing the 923-m rail and road bridge at this very busy and crucial border
For years truck drivers have had to sit in long queues at the border to cross the river on a ferry, while motorists got to use the ferry first.
Richard Malinga, an engineer at the African Development Bank (AfDB), who wrote the appraisal report on the project, says the governments of Zambia and Botswana discussed the necessity of this project for many years, but it could be implemented only after proper funding became available in late 2014.
“This is not a small project. It has been a work in progress for many years, but, fortunately, we are now at the last stretch before it is completed,” says Malinga. The estimated total cost of the project is approximately US$ 259,3 million (R3,5 billion).
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was planning to invest more than US$ 110 million (R1,5 billion) into the project, but pulled out its support in early 2014 over a tender dispute for the construction of the bridge, leaving gaps in the funding.
However, JICA didn’t have any problems with the other components of the project and made a co-financing arrangement with the AfDB and EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund.
The multinational project is based in the North-South Corridor (NSC) in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It forms part of the corridor’s infrastructure improvement programme aimed at boosting regional transport integration.
The Kazungula border crossing is the key link between the port in Durban, South Africa and Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Tanzania.
In September, 2014, a South Korean company, Daewoo Engineering & Construction, was awarded the US$ 162 million (R2,2 billion) contract to build the rail and road bridge. Construction started in December 2014 and is due to be completed December 2018.
Construction on the One Stop Border Post (OSBP) facilities on the Botswana side of the border, which was awarded to Zhon Gan Engineering and Construction, started in July 2016. The construction of offices and staff accommodation is progressing well, with some of the offices already being occupied.
In October 2016, Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group Company Limited of China (AFECC) was awarded the contract to build the OSBP on the Zambian side of the border.
“We are hoping that the construction will start in February this year. It will take about 30 months to complete,” says Malinga. This phase consists of ten main buildings, 800 m of circulation roads, parking areas and 2,4 km of the main bridge road.
Malinga says the two countries are still discussing the details for the tolls that will be placed at the border. “The collected toll fees will directly cover the operational and maintenance costs of the border crossing and it may indirectly cover costs for the loans used to build the crossing,” says Malinga.
He explains that the two countries, and subsequently the rest of the SADC region, will benefit economically from this project. Malinga predicts that border transit time will be reduced and procedures related to trade facilitation and border management operations will be improved once the bridge is complete.
“Where some users had to wait four or five days to cross the border, they will now be able to do so within a day or two. This will, in turn, reduce time-based transport and trade costs,” says Malinga.
The reduced transit time at the border crossing will also decrease the chances of some truck drivers engaging in illicit sex when they are stuck at the border for a number of days, which could assist in decreasing HIV infections among and from truck drivers.
Malinga anticipates that this project will directly benefit communities and businesses engaged in the mining, agricultural and service sectors, which contribute 60 to 80 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Jobs have already been created for citizens of Zambia and Botswana at the Kazungula border crossing, as the governments insisted that the contractors employ and train people from the local communities.
“Everything is currently on track. I am sure that the different contractors will complete their tasks within the times that were agreed upon,” says Malinga.