EASING THE BOTTLENECK

Zambia 2015 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS: THE KAZUNGULA BRIDGE

The construction of a road and rail bridge across the Zambezi River may be the ticket to easing transportation, thereby facilitating trade within the SADC region.

According to the Africa Progress Report 2014, Africa's yearly food import bill is worth $35 billion (excluding fish), despite having enough resources to feed not only the entire continent, but other regions as well. One of the main reasons for this may not be low productivity or access to finance, but the fact that intra-regional transport infrastructure is lacking, which makes access to markets difficult.

In Zambia trade costs are high. There is very little the country can do to shorten distance to ports or change freight rates, but there is much that can be done to improve the ease of crossing domestic borders. One of the main initiatives to ameliorate the transportation of goods and people on the continent has been the North South Corridor (NSC) in the SADC region. This multinational project involving Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe aims at improving regional integration by improving road, rail, and port infrastructure connections. The implementation of the NSC program is coordinated by a Tripartite comprising the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East Africa Community (EAC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The project is expected to enhance regional trade and promote tourism, while contributing to the reduction of poverty by giving communities better access to markets and social services. This project includes the construction and rehabilitation of about 8,600km of roads, the upgrade of 600km of rail networks, and the upgrade and development of ports.

Within the program, and after ten years on the drawing board, is included the construction of the multi-million-dollar Kazungula Bridge, which will stretch 923m over the Zambezi River. The four-year project has finally kicked off. The bridge will be situated about 70km from Livingston in Zambia at the Kazungula border and 8km from Kasane in Botswana.

For the construction of this bridge, the South Korean company Daewoo Engineering and Construction has signed a contract with the governments of Zambia and Botswana. The estimated cost of the project is $259.3 million, and the project is receiving financial assistance from the Japan international Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Until now, crossing the Zambezi River in the Kazungula district could take drivers up to 36 hours due to the large queues of cars and trucks waiting to use the ferry. This new development will address bottlenecks in the area and reduce the transit time to two hours, which will in turn cut transportations costs and improve the efficiency of intra and regional trade. As Hon. Yamfwa D. Mukanga, MP Cabinet Minister, Government Chief Whip and Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communication told TBY, the Kazungula Bridge will not only feature a road, but also a rail line that will ease the transportation of heavy machinery, especially for the Zambian mining and agriculture industries

Both the government and public sector expect the new infrastructure to support the creation of new jobs in the area. In fact, during the construction period alone an estimated 2,000 new jobs will be created.

Many people already believe that this bridge will transform the south of the continent by facilitating the movement of goods and people in the SADC region; however, the construction of the bridge will not prove adequate unless the process of customs clearance is also addressed. Indeed, according to the World Bank Group's Zambia Economic Brief, June 2014: Promoting Trade and Competitiveness - What Can Zambia Do?, high regional transport costs are, in part, due to long delays at borders. This is why the Kazungula Bridge project will include a one-stop-border post facility, as well as complementary access roads.

According to Dr. Anthony Mwanaumo, Director and CEO of the National Road Fund Agency (NRFA), the bridge is a strategic link on the North-South Corridor that will especially benefit Zambia, Botswana, and DRC by integrating the economies and improving regional competitiveness. Completion of the bridge is scheduled for 2018.

Despite being one of the world's fastest growing regions, Africa still needs to make growth inclusive and sustainable. Infrastructure on the continent should be designed to support trade and facilitate access to markets for all individuals in urban and rural areas. The Kazungula Bridge is a strong example of regional cooperation within the transport sector aimed at removing the bottlenecks, so to speak, on further growth and opportunity.