Kazungula Bridge, a pointer for regional co-existence
The construction of the multi-million-dollar Kazungula Bridge, linking Zambia with Botswana from Zambezi River will commence later this year.
According to the projected timeframe, the ground-breaking ceremony will take place in June 2013 while construction of the US$259 million Bridge will start soon after, says Zambia Development Agency Director, Bernard Chiwala.
This follows the recent signing of an agreement among Zambia, Botswana and the Japanese Government through its development agency, JICA, in which the two countries sought an estimated US$259m to undertake the project on the banks of the Zambezi River.
According to financing projections, the construction of the Kazungula Bridge will be jointly financed by the Japanese government, through the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), which will provide US$41.77m.
The African Development Bank (ADB) has agreed to loan the two governments US$78.41m.
The estimated cost of the project stands at US$248m.
The project comes on the heels of the initiation of the “home-grown” regional integration in Africa among SADC, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and East African Communities.
The bridge would boost intra trade among SADC countries, especially between Zambia and Botswana.
Experts say this would further foster increased flow of goods and services, which further contribute to regional integration of the SADC economies.
The project is also expected to create job opportunities for people in Botswana and Zambia, as well as others in neighbouring states who will take advantage of the new and efficient link.
The project includes the construction of a new tolled road, railway bridge and one-stop border facilities as well as access roads at the border crossing currently serviced by a pontoon.
The erection of the Kazungula Bridge over the Zambezi River will enhance various commercial activities to come into play and authorities in the two countries also envisage improved regional connectivity of the North-South Corridor.
SADC regional integration expert, Mark Pearson, while doubting the success of regional integration among the three African trade and economic blocs, admits that the success of the bridge, as part of infrastructure development, is a milestone in the growth of the continent.
He stated that poor infrastructure – roads and bridges, ports, among others ‑ hampers the movement of goods and services between African states, and further militates against the much-needed economic expansion and growth.
“This is a good project to say the least, but where is the sustained financing going to come from to undertake such projects?
“There is a master plan for the regional integration projects, which has billions of dollars to undertake but are African countries willing to lose their newly won economic sovereignty?” Pearson asked.
Catherine Makokera of the economic think tank, Southern African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), argues that while such projects were good for African economic growth prospects, “the lack of political will to expedite the implementation of major projects was a major setback”.
Initially, the Kazungula Bridge was expected to be undertaken by three countries—Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe but was marred by petty bickering among the stakeholders, which threatened to derail the whole project.
This prompted Botswana and Zambia to withdraw from the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding, opting instead for a bilateral agreement to facilitate progress.
The two neighbours also agreed to shift alignment of the bridge upstream along the river to avoid encroaching on an area that had been subject of an unresolved border dispute between Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Economic experts, however, argue that SADC regional integration, poised to become a reality by or around 2018, can only materialise if all the countries in the sub-region commit themselves fully to economic ventures that require collaboration and joint financing.
Self-centeredness, failure to unite as one group coupled further with willingness to develop African potential should be the driving force behind regional integration expectations.
Parochial nationalism should be debunked to enhance collaboration among SADC and COMESA, EAC member States to forge viable alliances to speed up development programmes, added experts.
Experts noted that the case of Kazungula Bridge ‑ if it is anything to go by to those seeking to enhance regional integration ‑ should be the pointer to the beginning of regional co-existence. It will undoubtedly bridge a yawning gap in bilateral and regional trade on the continent, which has remained elusive for a long time, contributing to the continent's stagnation. Zambia’s Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda and COMESA Secretary-General, Sindiso Ngwenya, said they were ready for regional integration as envisaged among the players but there is need for the unity of purpose to be championed.