Botswana government faces a difficult balancing act as looks to consolidate Kazungula Bridge as the premier entry and exit point into and out of the country.
First things first – Kazungula represents the greatest achievement for the countries involved in building it.
It is a fitting example for future syndicated projects between countries in southern Africa.
The bridge did not come cheap. And on that alone – even before other geopolitical factors, the bridge was always going to be fraught.
The bridge is likely to come under intense competition from Beitbridge in the near future.
A consortium of investors has been given a mandate to manage that entry port linking South Africa and Zimbabwe.
And a majority of traffic runs between Zimbabwe and South Africa. And there is the rub.
Kazungula bridge should not be allowed to descend into a white elephant.
Not only is this a big landmark it is also the biggest single investment to come out of Botswana.
For all the countries involved -Botswana and Zambia, the bridge represents a huge investment.
And there is more. A lot rides on it – especially to unlock a future of possibilities in terms of regional integration and regional cooperation.
SADC regional cooperation is often exaggerated and passed on as some kind of a monochrome.
There is nothing like that.
SADC countries are disparate and often have interests that run parallel.
Instead of seeing Kazungula Bridge as a big inter-regional investment that stands to boost intra trade among SADC countries, already we are seeing maneuverers by some SADC member countries towards undermining the bridge’s true potential.
These are not mere incidental maneuvers. They are well coordinated.
Sadly, Botswana government is especially unconsciously helping such countries – as it is happening with the latest covid-19 rules determining who can enter Botswana.
The rules are giving some truckers an excuse not to go through Botswana.
And that is not what we need now.
The rules have not been effectively communicated.
But most importantly Botswana should not force everybody to be vaccinated.
There will always be people who do not want to be vaccinated.
And people should be allowed to make a choice.
It is not for the state to make choices on behalf of people.
And among these people the feeling against vaccine is so strong that they would rather not come into Botswana. And let us be honest, one does not lose a lot by not coming to Botswana. It is Botswana that needs most people to come here.
Botswana government should allow for exemptions and these should be communicated clearly.
Promoters of Kazungula Bridge, it is important that to be awake of the fact that for all its advantages, much of truckers still consider the route to be longer.
Botswana remains especially vulnerable to regional geopolitics that are driven by nationalist sentiments.
A Hyundai car assembly closed down here in Gaborone just over twenty years ago because of pressure from South African interests that included trade unions.
Plans to build a coal fired power station at Mmamabula also fell victim to exactly the same geopolitics.
It now looks likely that the flagship medical plant that was supposed to be built here to supply Covid-19 related drugs to Africa will also be taken by South Africa.
There are indications that the momentum that was built following the completion of the Kazungula bridge is stalling.
It has to do with the fact that efforts are now discernible on the ground to resuscitate Beitbridge.
Let’s face it, for a majority of truckers using the Beitbridge is a much shorter option.
That is if no extended time is lot while waiting to cross.
The competitive advantage that Kazungula Bridge has is the fact that crossing there is much swifter.
There is also another factor that down the line could work against Kazungula Bridge.
Let’s face it, using Kazungula to cross does not come cheap, especially for truckers who are in case the biggest customers.
While there is need to market Kazungula Bridge, that marketing has to accompanied by evaluating the prices charged.
Botswana would be the biggest loser were Kazungula Bridge to lose out in its tussle for customers with Beitbridge.
It therefore falls on Botswana to find ways to market the Bridge.
We are not holding our breath.
Botswana has a poor track record when it comes to marketing similar facilities.
The dry port in Namibia is one example.
The Trans-Kalahari corridor running across Botswana’s southern parts into Namibia is another.
Early indications are that Botswana and with it the Kazungula Bridge might be victims of geopolitical underhand tactics by the two regional powers – South Africa and Zimbabwe.