An implementation office for the Trans-Kalahari Railway project is due for establishment next month, as the multi-billion Pula initiative inches closer to development.
Speaking at celebrations to mark the Silver Jubilee of Namibia’s independence, that country’s High Commissioner to Botswana, Mbapeua Muvangua said preparations were at an advanced stage for the project office. “The office space has been secured, renovated and is to be furnished soon,” he said.
“The target date for the official opening is April 2015.” The project office is key to the 1,500-kilometre railway project, as it will coordinate the implementation, which was initially due to run from 2014 to 2019 at a cost of P136 billion.
The office’s establishment comes after Botswana and Namibia signed an agreement in September 2014.
While the idea of a railway spanning the Kalahari dates back to the 19th century, it has received the highest attention in the last decade due to increased global demand for coal, congestion along traditional routes and private sector interest in funding such a project.
The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding four years ago and since then, have decided on the railway line’s route, the gauge type of rail to be used, the development of specialised terminal facilities at either end of the railway and expansion of deep water port facilities in Namibia.
The outstanding step before construction is to secure support from the private sector. Meanwhile, Muvangua said bilateral relations between Namibia and Botswana had come a long way by virtue of shared societal affinities as well as geographical proximity and political history.
“These relations date back to our pre-colonial period when already in 1896, a viral disease known as Rinderpest, that was very fatal to cattle population almost wiped out all Namibian cattle,” he said.
“The outbreak forced hundreds of Namibian pastoralists to flee with their cattle into Botswana to save the remaining stock from that pandemic.
“People of Botswana without hesitation received and provided refuge to the Namibians who fled genocide. Chief Samuel Maherero of the Ovaherero community fled into Botswana.”
He said the cordial relations could be seen in several development initiatives the two countries are jointly pursuing such as the Walvis Bay Dry Port, the West Africa Cable System and the Trans-Kalahari.
“The Government of Namibia is (also) pursuing cooperation with the Botswana Vaccine Institute,” he said.
“Since the export of meat and other meat products contributes immeasurably to our two economies, it is important that we work together in order to support the growth, reliability and economic viability of animal farming as a subsector of our economies.”
For her part, Foreign Affairs minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi praised Namibia for the progress it has made in the past decade.
“The country has maintained peace, stability and security which in turn have ensured a conducive environment for government to deliver public goods and services to its people,” she said. “Botswana and other countries in the region and beyond continue to be encouraged and deeply inspired by these remarkable achievements.”