Dispute escalates into three way regional hostility with Zambia retaliating against Zimbabwe and Botswana caught in the crossfire.
PRESIDENTS Festus Mogae, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia will meet tomorrow (Monday) in a bid to resolve the marathon border dispute along the Kazungula frontier which has delayed the construction of a multi-million Pula bridge in the area that borders the three countries.
Zimbabwe’s Secretary for Information and Publicity and Presidential spokesman, George Charamba, said this week the Japanese-funded project was urgent and the three leaders agreed to meet in Harare over the matter at last week’s Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit in Maseru, Lesotho.
Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia are currently locked in a marathon border dispute along the Kazungula frontier, delaying the construction of the multi-million pula bridge.
The dispute has escalated into full scale regional hostility with Zambia, which has 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, Presidential Affairs Minister, Phandu Skelemani, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Mompati Merafhe, to resolve the issue amicably with Mugabe have so far failed and, for sometime, indications were that a legal battle was in the offing.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Clifford Maribe, last month confirmed the dispute to Sunday Standard saying the Office of the President (Political desk) had set up a committee to look at the issue.
The dispute has stalled construction of the Kazungula Bridge between Botswana and Zambia which is expected to boost the regional economy. Zimbabwe has been trying to muscle 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.
As a result of such behavior, the Zambian government was also against a Zimbabwean road passing through Zambia to connect to Botswana. The three leaders, are this week, expected to resolve the regional crisis and move ahead with the construction of the Kazungula Bridge and the Zimbabwean road passing through Zambia to connect with Botswana.
President Mwanawasa is expected to attend the official opening of this year’s edition of the Harare Agricultural Show.
Mogae is expected in Harare today (Sunday) while his Zambian counterpart will jet in on Monday morning.
Zimbabwean spokesperson, Daniel Muhau, was quoted in the Zimbabwean Herald saying: “There would be two visiting Presidents, one being Mr Mogae of Botswana, who will officially open the show; and the other one is President Mwanawasa of Zambia.
“President Mogae will give the keynote address and will also inspect a guard of honour.”
Muhau added that three agricultural delegations from Botswana, Tanzania and Italy would also be in the country for the show.
He also said schoolchildren in uniform would be allowed into the Exhibition Park free of charge for the official opening on Monday and the following day.
Farmers with their licences would also be granted free admission into the Exhibition Park.
The presence of the two heads of state at the show would be further confirmation of Zimbabwe’s friendly, strong and mutually beneficial ties at government level with neighbouring countries, contrary to reports in some sections of the media that the region was isolating Zimbabwe, he said.