Kazungula Bridge spells economic doom for Zim

HARARE - Economists have warned that the newly-commissioned Kazungula rail road bridge between Zambia and Botswana spells economic doom for Zimbabwe as it would divert business from the country.

The bridge bypasses Zimbabwe, meaning trucks from South Africa can now cross via Mafikeng to Botswana and straight to Kazungula, thereby bypassing Zimbabwe.

If this alternative route proves to more efficient and friendlier to haulage trucks, the traffic via Beitbridge will be significantly reduced and Zimbabwe stands to lose out in terms of revenue.

All along, Zimbabwe was a transit hub, catering for northbound and southbound transit traffic through its ports of entry and exit.

The country was a gateway to East and southern African countries and served Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries.

Zimbabwe benefitted from cargo duty and toll fees.

Now with this project, Zimbabwe stands to miss out on the economic benefits brought about by the construction of the mammoth bridge, over the  Zambezi River stretching 923 metres, because former president Robert Mugabe could not sanction its passage through the Zimbabwean territory as a crude way of fixing his regional nemesis, Botswana president Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

Mugabe and Khama often found themselves trading barbs as the latter had become an open critic of the ousted nonagenarian.

Because of the bad blood, Zambia and Botswana had to talk Namibia into an agreement to curve the bridge into its territory, which lengthened the bridge by 323 metres.

But although current president Emmerson Mnangagwa hurried to Kazungula to witness its commissioning — a move which State pundits claimed was meant to show a change of stance by Zimbabwe — analysts said this project sounds a death knell for the country.

Besides the loss of revenue in the form of transit fees and toll fees, there will also be loss of business for the consumptive tourism sub-sector, which includes restaurants, overnight accommodation facilities and some recreations.

“This is a great loss of revenue since most transporters would divert to that route. I think the bureaucratic issues at the Beitbridge and Chirundu ports of entry pushed these countries to think out new avenues,” said economic analyst, Elliot Lumbe.

“It means Zimbabwe must put its house in order as far as acceleration of infrastructural development to do with transport is concerned.

“There is need specifically to speed up the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway for traffic flowing into Zambia, DRC and Tanzania,” he added.

Former finance minister Tendai Biti said the development calls on Zimbabwe to urgently re-think its priorities with regards to the transport sector.

“The major road to the central and eastern African economic discourse is the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway; it’s the key road.

“That’s why it’s important that the government modernises the road and also that it starts to prioritise railway as the major means of transportation,” he said.

Of Mnangagwa’s presence in Kazungula, Biti said: “I think he is trying to make a statement that although Zimbabwe was excluded from the project, it still wants to be part of the region. But the problem now is that at the moment, no one trusts Zimbabwe; all those leaders will be waiting for elections.”

Economist John Robertson bemoaned the sluggish pace of development by Zimbabwean authorities which has seen other countries side-lining and overtaking it.

“The economic repercussions are going to be serious. Travelling through Zimbabwe is very slow and expensive; it slows down people and so they are more likely to divert to the Kazungula route which will save them time and equipment.

“It’s going to be helpful if we are to make sure that our infrastructure catches up. We are behind others.

“The roads must be upgraded. In fact, we should have done that a long time ago. The improvements must start at the border post.

“For example, we have trucks taking days to be cleared at Beitbridge. To do that now is a bit late,” Robertson said.

Analysts also urged the new government to guard against such lapses in future, saying the country must move away from the costly and trivial political and diplomatic tiffs between Zimbabwe and its neighbours.

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