By Mmapula Molapong
Beijing: The Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the second Belt and Road Forum last Friday in the capital Beijing under the theme “Belt and Road Cooperation: Shaping a Brighter Shared Future.”
About 37 heads of states attended the forum with over 5,000 participants from more than 150 countries.
The forum included a series of events such as leader’s roundtable, high level meetings, thematic forums and CEO conference.
The Botswana minister of Transport and Communications, Dorcas Makgato attended this year’s forum with her delegation.
During an interview at the end of the forum the minister explained that even though Botswana has not signed the Belt and Road Initiative BRI, she was in attendance because she had a number of activities to do.
“Our two Heads of State made commitments and pledges last year in September, so as technocrats we are here to make sure that we do all the necessary, understand all the processes, close all the gaps for us to be able to effect that which was committed to during the state visit last year by our president when he met with his counterpart,” said Makgato.
She said some of those had to do with potential funding for some infrastructure developments with particular reference to the Francistown-Mohembo road, the Kazugula-Mosetse rail link and Palapye- Martin’s drift road.
“We were having discussions around those projects to get an update. Last year December there were some technical visits that were taken by the Chinese government, the organ called China International Development Cooperation Agency CIDCA, accompanied by their funding agents Export Import Bank of China (Exim Bank), they met with Transport and Finance officials in Botswana to get to grips with the details of the projects and to see for themselves and verify to when it needed to be done,” she added.
Minister Makgato also mentioned that part of this visit was to crystallize what could be done in the short, medium and long term.
“In the short term we have agreed that our Francistown to Mohembo road will be cut into biteable chunks. We will do a chunk at a time because it is a really lengthy road, and we will start with a feasibility study of the Maun-Nata which is around 300 km, that feasibility will be funded by the Chinese government as part of the grant that they had given to us. That was one of the bottlenecks because we needed to find funding which we didn’t have at the time and they have agreed that they will fund that feasibility.”
She noted that a team of Chinese officials are expected to come to Botswana in May and the Chinese government has assured them that if all the processes are completed the project should start by the end of 2019.
Makgato said that they also needed to clarify the rail link issue because when the technical team came to Botswana last year, one of the major concerns was ‘does Botswana really have traffic.’
“We had to explain that it is not just Botswana traffic but having a gateway into broader Africa which we managed to clear and the rail link engagement will continue. This does not mean that the Botswana government will not continue to discuss these projects within its own funding through the national development plan NDP11.”
The minister stated that her major highlight from the Chinese president’s opening speech was the clarity of his vision under the BRI and that the project is a win-win for everyone. “The project is not only for China to benefit but other players to benefit from it in terms of employment, development and the realization of the linkages at road and rail both at regional and continental level. Even though there is a bit of scepticism based on the discussions about what the intentions are I appreciated what the president said because some of the concerns that we had in Botswana in terms of quality, cost overruns, lack of understanding and appreciation of the local laws, he talked to those and gave assurance that he understands and that this will not be policy that pursues China’s interests only but also for the recipients.”
She said she believes it was important for Botswana to participate in the forum to understand further what BRI is all about because it is evolving. “What was also interesting is that it was not just a forum full of African member states which is generally the perception out there, but there were Western countries, European countries and that gave a sense that it’s not just about Africa but it’s about true linkages across the world.” She emphasized that the discussions were very mutual and cordial.
Makgato could not however give a specific figure of how much the rail and road projects would cost in total and said they would be determined by the feasibility study.
She noted that she will finish off her stay in China by visiting the Huawei manufacturing plant as they have a number of things that they are currently doing with the tech giant together with the ministry of defence and security. “It is often good to know where your vendors are and what their capabilities are, rather than to just deal with them at paper level.”