Trans-Kalahari project offers window of hope

 

Following years of delays, Namibia and Botswana have finally signed a bilateral agreement to establish a jointly owned entity to drive the TransKalahari Railway (TKR) project. The agreement was signed in Walvis Bay on 19 March.

The TKR is of massive benefit to Namibia and Botswana in particular, and the SADC region. The railway line will enable Botswana to transport coal from its Mmamabula coalfields directly to port for export. The 1 500 kilometre railway line will also open up a major artery for trade between Namibia and its landlocked fellow Southern African Development Community member states, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Without the railway line Botswana could not unlock the value of its massive coal resources, estimated to be around 12 billion tonnes.

The bilateral agreement between Namibia and Botswana has come at the right time as the region has earmarked 2014 as the year for infrastructure and energy development.

Infrastructure and energy development will remain key intervention areas this year as an efficient and cost-effective transport network and stable energy supplies are critical to a thriving economy at both national and regional levels.

SADC has adopted an ambitious US$64-billion programme to develop cross-border infrastructure in six priority areas of energy, transport, tourism, water, information communication technology and meteorology.

Implementation of this programme started in 2013 and is expected to gain momentum in 2014 as the region plans to develop a total of 106 cross-border projects during the first phase, by 2017.

According to sardc.net, investment and finance for the regional infrastructure programme will be sought in 2014 following an initial investment conference held in Mozambique last year when a number of potential investors expressed interest in funding some of the projects.

Additional investment conferences are planned for this year in Asia, Europe and the United States.

The infrastructure master plan contains three five-year phases for implementation – short-term (2012-2017), medium-term (2017-2022) and long-term (2022-2027).

The long stalled trans-Kalahari project will provide a route to sea access to landlocked countries in the SADC region. It is quite refreshing that the leaders of Namibia and Botswana Presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba and Ian Khama are reported to have ordered that the TKR project must be fast tracked.

The Achilles heel in many developmental projects in SADC and indeed on the entire African continent is delays in implementation, which results in the costs of the projects ballooning while plans gather dust in offices. The TKR, which is estimated to cost around US$15 billion, will now be implemented on a build, operate and transfer basis by the private sector. Once the private sector investors have recouped their investments, they will hand over the project to the governments of the two countries.

We commend Namibia and Botswana for taking this route because many a development project are being stalled by funding yet there are viable alternative options such as the build, operate and transfer mechanism. In the past infrastructure development has not received the due attention it deserves from governments in the SADC region but the Namibia-Botswana agreement gives hope that we could be seeing some movement in this key sector. Infrastructure development is key to other sectors such energy and tourism.   

The build, operate and transfer option has been used before with good results and there is every reason to believe the TKR will be no different. “We are establishing a joint operating company which will own the TKR on behalf of the two governments.

“We want to solicit for bids from interested companies to develop this project as soon as possible. The developer will procure the financing. The two governments are not going to finance the TKR. 

We will only finance the administrative aspect of this project,” said Namibia’s National Planning Commission (NPC) Permanent Secretary, Levi Hungamo.

March 2014
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