Sadc must pur­sue rail project with vigour

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

SADC coun­tries are one, united by geog­ra­phy, eco­nomics, cul­ture and pol­i­tics. The 15 Sadc mem­ber states con­sti­tute Africa’s most po­lit­i­cally sta­ble and se­cure trad­ing group­ing where their cit­i­zens and com­pa­nies move, trade and so­cialise freely. While some re­gional blocs on the con­ti­nent rou­tinely suf­fer dev­as­tat­ing wars, South­ern Africa is gen­er­ally sta­ble although there are chal­lenges in Mozam­bique, Le­sotho and the con­tin­u­ing con­flict in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. Still the in­sta­bil­ity is noth­ing com­pared to the sit­u­a­tion in the Horn of Africa, North Africa and West Africa.

But a lot still needs to be done for Sadc to at­tain greater eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion. One of the im­por­tant ways through which the in­te­gra­tion can grow is through shar­ing of crit­i­cal phys­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture. We must how­ever, ac­knowl­edge that in­deed Sadc coun­tries share, among others, elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion in­fras­truc­ture at Kariba and Ca­hora Bassa dams, roads, rail­ways, se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion, have the Sadc Trade Pro­to­col and the sim­ple fact that Sadc ex­ists as a group­ing of 15 coun­tries in the re­gion.

The pro­posed rail­way line link­ing Botswana through Zim­babwe to Mozam­bique, if it ma­te­ri­alises, will fur­ther con­sol­i­date the al­ready solid re­la­tions not only be­tween the three fo­cal coun­tries, but the rest of the re­gion as well.

We wit­nessed on Fri­day, the sign­ing of a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing by min­is­ters of trans­port rep­re­sent­ing Zim­babwe, Mozam­bique and Botswana for the build­ing of a $600 mil­lion, 1 500km long rail­way line, the Port Te­choba­n­ine Heavy Haul Rail Project.

The Min­is­ter of Trans­port and In­fras­truc­tural De­vel­op­ment, Dr Jo­ram Gumbo, Mozam­bique’s Min­is­ter of Trans­port and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Mr Car­los Al­berto Mesquita and Botswana’s Min­is­ter of Min­er­als, En­ergy and Wa­ter Resources Mr Onkokane Kitso Mokaila signed the agree­ment at a Bu­l­awayo ho­tel.

Min­is­ter Gumbo said each of the three gov­ern­ments is ex­pected to con­trib­ute about $200 mil­lion to the project that will be im­ple­mented un­der the pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship fund­ing model.

“Only about 100KM of rail will be in Botswana and an­other 100KM will be in Mozam­bique,” he said. “But if you look at the stretch that is about 1 500KM, which means the long­est rail will be in Zim­babwe. That means a lot to our coun­try in terms of tran­sit pay­ments. It is hoped and an­tic­i­pated that the project will pro­vide im­proved dis­tri­bu­tion of re­gional traf­fic among cor­ri­dors in South­ern Africa, in­crease re­gional in­te­gra­tion and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and pro­vide for fast im­ple­men­ta­tion of a fun­da­men­tal re­gional trans­porta­tion net­work. The Ponta Te­choba­n­ine In­ter-re­gional Heavy Haul Rail­way project is ex­pected to fa­cil­i­tate in­vest­ment in min­ing, trans­port and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors that have stunted in Zim­babwe and Botswana alike due to lack of sea­port fa­cil­i­ties for im­por­ta­tion of ma­te­rial and com­po­nents and ex­ports of ore prod­ucts and fin­ished com­modi­ties.”

This is in­deed a mas­sive project for Sadc that will re­sult in a range of ben­e­fits. It is ob­vi­ous, as the min­is­ter notes, that it will fa­cil­i­tate trade.

For the three land-locked coun­tries, we fore­see the project eas­ing their ac­cess to the sea and open­ing up an al­ter­na­tive route to ex­ist­ing ones that are con­cen­trated on South Africa.

It poses grave eco­nomic and se­cu­rity risks for a re­gion such as ours to rely on one or two rail, even road links to the sea. Presently, routes to South Africa are con­gested, which means that bulk freight both ex­ports and im­ports des­tined to or from land-locked economies tends to take long pe­ri­ods to ar­rive and much money is spent in stor­age charges.

A se­cu­rity threat along the ex­ist­ing routes would cre­ate unimag­in­able chal­lenges to these coun­tries. But a new route, to al­ter­na­tive ports such as the one through Mozam­bique would spread the risk, re­duce ex­penses that com­pa­nies in the three economies in­cur in im­port­ing and ex­port­ing bulk freight and the turn­around times.

For Botswana, said Min­is­ter Mokaila, the new route would be key as his coun­try is ready­ing it­self to max­imis­ing ben­e­fits from the new coal re­serves it dis­cov­ered in the east of that coun­try, about 220 bil­lion tonnes of it. Coal is nat­u­rally a bulky com­mod­ity which can only be prof­itably hauled by rail and sea. Road can do but can­not be as com­pet­i­tive as when fer­ried by rail. His coun­try has a long term plan of ex­port­ing to Asia and Europe but that can­not hap­pen ef­fec­tively through the ex­ist­ing rail­way line, hence the need to open up a new one.

The Ponta Te­choba­n­ine In­ter-re­gional Heavy Haul Rail­way line will make that dream pos­si­ble.

We how­ever un­der­stand that there has been an op­tion to reach the sea through Namibia at Walvis Bay. Zim­babwe has dis­cussed with Namibia that pos­si­bil­ity. Sim­i­lar ne­go­ti­a­tions have been un­der­taken be­tween Botswana and Namibia.

That holds po­ten­tial too and we urge Zim­babwe and Botswana to pur­sue it as well.

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