Silence descends after crunch Kazungula Bridge meet

Kazungula Bridge is due by next year
Kazungula Bridge is due by next year

KASANE: A veil of silence has descended after a crunch meeting held in Kasane this week on how to share the burden of completing the rail portion of the US$260 million Kazungula Bridge being developed by Botswana and Zambia.

The bridge, which is already behind schedule, was earlier this year rocked by controversy after workers downed tools on the Zambian side when authorities there failed to pay the contractor.

The delay lasted about four months and necessitated a high level intervention from both sides.

At some point, President Mokgweetsi Masisi spoke of the need to “iron out issues” between the two countries to ensure that the project runs undisturbed, an apparent reference to the funding troubles and work stoppage troubling the project.

More recently, Botswana Railways CEO, Leonard Makwinja told a parliamentary committee that the Zambians were apparently struggling to raise their share of the funding for rail. The CEO reportedly said Botswana was prepared to go it alone in this regard.

This week, executives from both sides’ rail parastatals held a high level, closed door meeting in the border town where the issue of cost sharing was reported to be high on the agenda. Board members of both parastatals were present at the meeting.

“Our Zambian counterparts acknowledged that they have difficulties, but they reiterated their commitment to see the project through,” an insider close to the Monday meeting told BusinessWeek.

While the meeting was originally expected to be brief, it lasted about three hours and officials were tightlipped on the proceedings when they emerged from the gathering.

Zambian Railways managing director, Christopher Musonda was diplomatic when questioned on the future of the bilateral project. “Every project has its own ups and downs but what is important is that we have addressed the challenge and everything is now in control,” he said.

“Whatever challenges we might encounter, we shall sit through and resolve them for the sake of the bridge.”  Musonda said both countries were “fully committed” to see the broader bridge project complete by the expected time next year, adding that their mutual cooperation had resolved other challenges before.

The Kazungula Bridge project, which comprises road, rail and associated infrastructural and service works, is due complete by June next year.

The construction of the $260 million bridge is financed through loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the African Development Bank (AfDB) as well as contributions from both the Zambian and Botswana governments.

Apart from increasing trade between the two countries, the bridge will help ease the flow of traffic by both passengers and goods.

At present, transporters are using old ferries (pontoons) to move goods and vehicles across the Zambezi River at the Kazungula border crossing between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

On average, 70 trucks cross with the ferry (pontoon) per day and currently trucks spend up to a week waiting to cross over, a situation that is critically affecting trade.

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