Last week on Monday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, Edgar Lungu of Zambia, Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, Hage Geingob of Namibia, and Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) convened at Kazungula border post quadripoint for the inaugural ceremony of the Kazungula Bridge Project.
The curved 923 meters bridge across the Zambezi River replaces the existing ferry and also includes a one-stop-shop border facility at Kazungula.
African Development Bank (AfDB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and regional governments amongst other grants helped fund the construction of the US$259 million project, which includes rail and road.
The construction was primarily commenced by Daewoo Engineering and Construction in October 2014 and ended in December 2020.
From the inception of the construction, Zimbabwe’s role in the Kazungula Project has been a subject of great debate. However, Pres. Mnangagwa gazed as merely an invited guest at the ceremony whilst Presidents Masisi and Nyusi took the onus to inaugurate the bridge.
The Zimbabwean leader, albeit revealed during the inaugural that Botswana and Zambia invited Zimbabwe to participate in the project in 2018.
“In the fullness of time, Zimbabwe will be part of this hallmark project, which accelerates our regional integration efforts,” he said.
Masisi also corroborated the claim, saying that Botswana and Zambian officials are working to complete the remaining works with Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, A Saboteur!
Press, mainly from Botswana and South Africa, has at various points, indicated that Zimbabwe tried to sabotage the Kazungula Bridge Project, fearing to lose revenue generated from the Chirundu-Beitbridge-Road Corridor.
In 2014, a news outlet from Botswana ran a piece that claimed that Lusaka and Gaborone approached Windhoek and asked for the bridge to pass through Namibia since Harare had denied with the Zimbabwean territory as a way of sabotaging the project.
The bridge that curves avoiding the Zimbabwean territory serves as an alternative to the Beitbridge to Chirundu route which is being used to travel from South Africa to Zambia, opening into central Africa.
The Botswana publication opening lines read,
“Having attempted to sabotage the construction of the Kazungula Bridge citing ‘conspiracy’, Zimbabwe now has an egg on its face after Botswana and Namibia activated Plan B. However, the sabotage plan forced design alterations that brought in a new partner.”
As well, a publication from South Africa said the (sabotage) sentiment was the same during the colonial era when Rhodesia and South Africa, which administered South-West Africa (Namibia) declared the route illegal.
Signs of Panic?
Currently, a lot of infrastructural developments are taking place along the Chirundu-Beitbridge-Road Corridor with the Zimbabwe government upgrading roads and border posts on the network between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers.
One of the latest developments along the corridor is the Zimbabwean President commissioning the completed phase of the US$21 million, Makuti-Chirundu road rehabilitation, a week before the Kazungula Border Post inaugural ceremony.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Felix Mhona’s first official highway tour was the 580.7 km Harare-Beitbridge road, along the corridor, which the government is also upgrading targeting completion by 2023 at a US$600 million cost.
Earlier in February 2021, the country had signed an agreement with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to also upgrade the Chirundu Border post, north of the corridor.
Zimbabwean officials, however, claim to support the Kazungula project, citing that it reduces pressure on the Beitbridge border post, the busiest border in southern Africa.
A suspected government official who uses @Jamwanda2 username on Twitter (oftentimes reported to be Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba) posted:
“Any other route through Kazungula which avoids Zimbabwe has to contend with an extra 200plus kilometres. No sensible logistician ignores that spatial fact in logistical calculus. Add to that services for cargo in transit, through-Zimbabwe routes become a logical preference.”