The political tension between Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia may disrupt construction of the US$ 70 million Kazungula Bridge, a vital economic link between Botswana and Zambia and the rest of Africa.
Botswana and Zambia have taken a tough stand against the Robert Mugabe administration following the recent controversial elections and subsequent presidential run-off. The latest three-way political tension follows the same fault lines of last years border dispute over the construction of the Kazungula Bridge where Zambia took sides with Botswana against Zimbabwe.
The Zambia Daily Mail reported Thursday that the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Business Foundation has cautioned Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe not to let politics derail the ambitious project.
It called the project, envisioned specifically for developing the mining sectors of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, of critical importance to the SADC region and the entire continent.
NBF senior project manager, John Roche, revealed that Zimbabwe, which did not participate in the initial project feasibility study, now wanted to make its own assessment.
“A small portion of the bridge actually goes past Zimbabwean territorial waters, hence Zimbabweans (are) requesting they also do their own feasibility study,” Roche said.
He advised Botswana and Zambia to persuade Zimbabwe to consider the long-term economic considerations given the economic importance to the region as a whole.
Roche appreciated the commitment by Botswana and Zambia to proceed and construct the bridge immediately downstream of the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers some 65 kilometers upstream from the world renowned Victoria Falls.
Botswana and Zambia are the only two Southern African countries which have publicly denounced the Robert Mugabe administration following the recent controversial election and subsequent run-off.
Botswana and Zambia’s tough stand against Zimbabwe is feared to have re-awaked the tension that was sparked by their border disputes over the construction of the bridge.
Former president Festus Mogae, Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe last year met in a bid to resolve the marathon border dispute along the Kazungula frontier which has delayed the construction of the multi-million Pula Bridge in the area that borders the three countries.
The three countries were locked in a border dispute along the Kazungula frontier, delaying the construction of the bridge.
The dispute had escalated into full scale regional hostility with Zambia, which had taken sides with Botswana, retaliating against Zimbabwe by blocking the Zimbabwean road passing through Zambia to connect to Botswana.
Numerous attempts by President Festus Mogae, Ministers Phandu Skelemani and Mompati Merafhe to resolve the issue amicably with Mugabe had failed and, for sometime, indications were that a legal battle was in the offing.
At the height of the border dispute, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Clifford Maribe told The Sunday Standard that the Office of the President (Political desk) had set up a committee to look at the issue.
The border dispute stalled construction of the Kazungula Bridge between Botswana and Zambia which is expected to boost the regional economy. Zimbabwe wanted in on the bilateral project between Botswana and Zambia and in 2003; it forced the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan to withhold a $60 million loan to Zambia because it claimed the Zambian area along Kazungula belonged to Zimbabwe.
Making his submission to the Zambian Parliamentary Committee, Works and Supply Permanent Secretary, Biwayo Nkunika, disclosed that the Zimbabwean government was demanding to be part of the project in which Mitsubishi Corporation was to finance the construction of the bridge on the Zambian part.
Nkunika said that the bridge would have to rest on some parts of Zimbabwean soil to connect directly to Botswana because the beacons installed on the Southern bank of the Zambezi River made it impossible for Zambia to connect directly to Botswana.
“Zimbabwe is saying for the bridge to pass through their country direct to Botswana, they have to be included as third partners in the project or else they will not allow it. But the only problem in allowing this is that the project will be costly because the gap where the bridge has to be constructed will be widened, “Nkunika said.
He complained that Zimbabwe had continued to be “stubborn and adamant over the issue. It’s a pity that Zimbabwe has continued to show resistance on this simple matter when Namibia is already agreeable with the project passing through their land”, he said.
This week, there were fresh fears that construction of the bridge may be derailed as Zimbabwe, which did not participate in the initial project’s feasibility study, insisted on making its own assessment. This comes at a time when relations between the three countries are at an all time low.