Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mokaila may be on right path for modernisation and competitiveness in transportation sector

On Thursday, Transport Minister Kitso Mokaila shared his “vision” with regard to the transport sector in the country with members of the Fourth Estate. We applaud Mokaila for not shying away from facing journalists even at a time when many things are not going well at the Government Enclave. 

Compared to some of his colleagues and superiors, he has kept his word of updating the nation on the operations of his ministry departments and state owned entities (SOEs). 

But while we praise Mokaila on the matter, we wish to also point out the need for us, as a country, to have a sustainable transport strategy clearly laid out. Given our central location within the SADC region, it is of paramount importance that we have some sort of guidance on how we can reap from our geographical location within the sub-Saharan region as well as the continent at large. 

The benefits of a well functioning transportation system cannot be over emphasised but perhaps we should consider putting them down on black and white. From where we stand, the transport hub that was established a few years ago seems to have failed before it could even achieve a single project. 

This, however, does not cancel out the need to add efficiency on the transportation sector which by nature would have a positive effect on downstream industries such as tourism, investment and diamonds trading that heavily depend on a robust and reliable aviation sector. 

Still on Thursday, Mokaila, told reporters that the Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB) has since opened up the skies for domestic flights. That is commendable. For a very long time both local and international aircraft operators have been calling for such as they felt the monopoly of Air Botswana on domestic routes was unfair to consumers. 

The opening up of skies will leave consumers with more options to choose from. It will encourage the growth of the domestic economy as we strongly believe that delay tactics by CAAB over the years have been a hindrance to the growth of the aviation sector in this country and by extension the growth of our economy. 

The CAAB became a legal entity and instigated full operations in 2009 after taking over from the former Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). This adds up to close to 10 years, and the authority cannot claim to be still “settling”. By now it should be able to even influence policy and law-making in the aviation sector. If it’s an issue of limited budget as “excuse” they should come out and say it. 

The truth of the matter is that while we continue to “sleep” as a country, global markets figures do show that in spite of increasing FDI flows into Africa, including Botswana, not all African countries are experiencing its influx. 

For Botswana this is partly due to lack of direct flights to the developed parts of the world such as Europe. This is perhaps partly due to lack of vibrant aviation industry which entails scheduled domestic flights. 

For a country that is home to a globally recognised delta, the Okavango Delta, and a country that boasts of the largest herds of cattle (that could be used as part of farm tourism … being an extension of village stay tourism) we need not to be dragging our feet to uplift this critical aviation sector. 

Despite the shoddy works at SSKA and other airports, influenced mostly by political interference, we still believe that the aviation sector is or should be a true connectivity, on a global scale. 

It drives economic growth, creates jobs and brings the citizens of the world together – why should we want our people to be left behind? We rely on aviation for the international links that could make Botswana a global diamond hub that we once dreamt to be as a nation. 

In our sane minds there is no single doubt that a vibrant aviation industry is crucial to Botswana’s economic prosperity but we also need to remind the government that modernisation and competitiveness of the whole transportation sector, be it air, rail or road is vital. 

In short there is need to optimise what our landlocked country already has in terms of its airspace, airports, road and rail networks. This is the only way how this once ‘Africa’s shining example’ can remain a vibrant and a natural crossroads for both the regional and global transportation sector. 

As part of the transport infrastructure development programme, Botswana jointly with Zambia have commenced the construction of the Kazungula Rail/Road Bridge multi-million US$ project over the Zambezi opening up transit for goods to countries to the north, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This is one project that should motivate us to improve both the rail and air transportation. 

The #Bottomline, however, remains optimistic that there are significant prospects of growth for our country’s transportation sector. If we can make use of it, our domestic economy will gain as the sector raises its performance, efficiency and takes new market opportunities. 

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