Saturday, July 11, 2020

Is Zambia paying its fair share in the Kazungula bridge?

In an apparent last minute bid to save the Kazungula Bridge, last week President Mokgweetsi Masisi flew to Lusaka to hold meetings with his Zambian counterpart.

The contractor had been complaining that clients ÔÇô Botswana Government and Zambian Government had not paid and as such had instructed workers not to come to work.

Kazungula Bridge is very important to Botswana’s economic ambitions to transport goods into central Africa.

But the Bridge is of much greater importance to Zambia than to Botswana.

For Zambia the bridge is a gateway entrance.

President Masisi has not made a secret of what a signature project the bridge has become to his overall economic vision for his Government and Botswana.

On the Botswana side both the minister and her permanent secretary have gone on record to say they have paid what they are supposed to pay.

The same cannot be said about Zambia.

Given the importance of the project, personally to President Masisi, it is possible an unscrupulous partner might be take  advantage of Botswana.

To put everything into context, the contractor had downed tools because of none-payment.

It is important for authorities not to sugarcoat the hard facts with vague diplomatic talk.

How did it happen that the contractor was not paid?

There are still many questions to be answered about Zambia’s commitment or overall ability to foot its share of the bill.

President Masisi has been courting Zimbabwe to be part of the group of countries building the bridge.

That would be good, but only if Zimbabwe would share the burden, and by so doing reduce and the financial commitment on Botswana and Zambia.

But as it is Zimbabwe has bigger priorities than building a multilateral infrastructure project.

President Masisi should pull no punches when it comes to his efforts to build a regional economic network, especially in such infrastructure like roads, rail, telecommunications and bridges.

But it should be a shared commitment.

He should draw a line on the sand and make it clear that there will be no freeloaders.

We should not as a country punch above our weight by carrying everybody on our back.

More importantly we should not turn ourselves into beggars as a way of convincing unwilling neighbours to join us into something that will also be of benefit to them.

The contractors downed their tools because Zambia had failed to pay on time.

Ideally it should have been President Lungu of Zambia, who has since reduced himself to a clown by his childish behavior who should have flown to Botswana to explain himself.

Botswana has paid its dues.

We expect Zambia to do the same.

It is still unclear just what was agreed in Lusaka that ultimately convinced the contractor to get back to site.

Did Botswana Government offer Zambia a loan?

This was not said. But if Botswana Government offered any assistance to Zambia it should be spelt out publicly.

As a country we cannot be running all over the sub-continent handing lifelines to countries that have their leaders behaving like ragamuffins and not taking their contractual obligations seriously.

When he says his country is addicted to the rule of law, President Masisi should demand the same from his colleagues, especially in SADC.

The Kazungula bridge is very important not only as an economic infrastructure but most importantly as a guinea pig to test the ability of our countries to cooperate based on trust and mutual respect.

The bridge if had gone without any hiccup would have been a barometer for future bigger cooperation between Botswana and Zambia.

Now Zambia has failed the test. And Botswana will inevitably have to be much more careful in partnering with Zambia in the future.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.