The Trans-Kalahari Railway Project, which was put on hold as a result of lack of funds, has now taken a step forward after governments of Namibia and Botswana employed key personnel to man its offices. The project will link the Namibian coast with Botswana’s coal fields.
According to Robert Kalomo, who is part of the project personnel, an office has been set up in Windhoek which will be staffed with officials from the two countries. “The office will be manned by six officials, three from each country,” said Kalomo. However, he said there was need to resolve legal and cross border issues before the project could take off.
The project is meant to be developed by the private sector in the two countries. Private companies will have to gather capital for the project and not the two governments.
“We have not yet selected the companies that will implement the project,” Kalomo said. This will only happen after expressions of interest had been invited,” he said.
Although several media reports from Botswana have said that the government may have changed its mind about supporting the project, Kalomo said the project is more beneficial to Botswana’s coal exports through Namibia. Kalomo revealed that although the cost of the project was estimated at US$15 billion in the feasibility study, it is most likely to cost more than that. When asked if private investors in Namibia and Botswana have means to raise US$15 billion or more, he said any interested investor will have to do it without any government guarantees.
Although no major financial institutions have shown interest in funding the project, Kalomo said investors could approach institutions such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank if selected to carry out the massive project.
Botswana and Namibia have already signed a bilateral agreement for plans to develop the 1 500-kilometre railway for transporting coal exports to Walvis Bay. Once the two countries have resolved all outstanding issues, this will make way for funding initiatives and tenders.
According to economists, economic growth in Botswana is expected to be boosted by Chinese and Indian demand for the more than 200 billion metric tonnes of coal in the central Karoo basin. Alternative export options for Botswana include transporting the coal by rail to either South Africa’s Richards Bay or the port of Beira in Mozambique.