By Oshebeng Alpheus Koonyaditse
The distance between any two points in Africa is picturesque. Elsewhere that’s a natural endowment that could be converted into ecotourism. In Africa among others, impediments are regulations that are not harmonised between countries sharing frontiers but with cross border trade. To ensure cross border trade is not encumbered, governments thence began to establish deeper regional integration programmes in the form of trading corridors. One such is the tripartite agreement between Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, formalised as Trans Kalahari Corridor Management Committee (TKCMC). Still, there are challenges with hope that at some point willingness to solve them will come from very high.
“This is the primary reason why the three countries entered into this agreement. This is basically a catalyst to economic growth of all three member states. To ensure we facilitate trade not only between them but for movement of goods to countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Malawi and even further up to Tanzania”, said Mr Leslie Mpofu of Botswana who heads the TKC Secretariat.
There has been an exponential cross border trade in the last five years between Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa which could be attributed directly to work done by TKCMC. Still, not much has been done to improve efficiency or at least to enable competency at the ports of entry. The border between South Africa and Botswana stretches 1 969 kilometres with 17 entry points in Northern Cape, North West and Limpopo Provinces. Despite the length, it has only four commercial ports; Ramatlabama, Kopfontein and Skilpadshek in North West and the Groblersbrug Border Post in Limpopo. In Botswana’s side there is Martinsdrift border post ensconced on the shores of the Limpopo River.
“It’s a choking point”, describes Mr Segodi Mogotsi with approximation of the challenges there. He is a director at the Department of Transport for regional corridors and the Minister’s designated chair of the Trans Kalahari Corridor Management Committee (TKCMC). The chairmanship of the organisation is rotational and it’s South Africa’s two year term after Namibia where the Secretariat offices are located.
“It’s a one way bridge that carries both long haul heavy trucks and small sedans for ordinary folks as well”, explains Mr Mogotsi on reference to Groblersbrug Border Post. Both posts on either side of the river are small but functional. Pressure mounts daily and stretch resources, not only on equipment but on human capital resources too. Problems are myriad; no parking space, no scanners and staff shortage. When it rains, flooding forces border closure. Environment gets contaminated too.
Oil leakages from trucks flows to the river and not only vegetation gets affected but is a health hazard too for people and animals in the vicinity. There are few ablution facilities not only at this border but at almost all of them. Where they are available, they are inadequate and below standard. With Covid-19 pandemic, it means there is now an added, urgent burden of quarantine facilities for people tested at the border. And more medical facilities to cope with exigencies, if needs be. There are no wellness centres along the North/South Corridor which would come in handy especially during this period of the pandemic.
Up north in Kasane there is a quaint area called Kazungula. It’s a quadripoint between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe; all traditional allies of South Africa. And there is more. It’s also a confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers with Caprivi Strip which has since been renamed the Zambezi Region beginning at the exact meeting point. A boat cruise in the Great Chobe gives one a glimpse of how nature has drawn the line that serves as the border between Botswana and Namibia. It’s a tourist fantasy – nature’s gift that has not as yet been sufficiently exploited. It is worth noting that nearby is a fluvial Sedudu Island known in Namibia as Kasikili Island. It was the subject of a territorial dispute between the two neighbours 22 years ago and was settled by the International Court of Justice.
It is in this exact spot where laudably the governments of Botswana and Zambia decided to come together to build the state of the art one stop border post. The design of the bridge across the Zambezi is quintessential. A little curvy which is a sight for sore eyes until you are told the rationale behind the bend?
Namibia and Zimbabwe were not keen with the latter inexplicably asked that the bridge shouldn’t be over her waters above the Zambezi. It left Botswana and Zambia to negotiate with Namibia to allow the bridge to curve somewhat over her waters. Windhoek agreed. A decade later it stands majestically between the two countries over the Zambezi and now all four are beneficiaries. And South Africa too, as most of the goods demanded up north are from the south. Before then, the crossing was by the ferry.
“TKC is a life of the Corridor. It must also contribute to economic growth by creating employment for citizens of member states. Goods destined for Zimbabwe from as far afield as United Kingdom come through Walvis Bay in Namibia. Some of them vehicles and big machineries, which is why cooperation between states is important”, says Mr Mpofu.
Cooperation is not only crucial from member states. It is also so from businesses and everyone arriving at the ports of entry.
“Corridors are not competing but complementing each other. That is why we plead with all end-users to arrive on time but it will assist if they could do pre clearance before coming to the border”, explains Mr Mpofu echoing sentiments from border officials.
Given the spectacle of nature the region is blessed with, driving is bliss, except for occasional potholes. Wild life roams free and is a feast to the eye. The green lush adorn the road as if to give the traveller a guard of honour. The greenery seemingly untouched nor blighted by bitter winter appears endless. The spectacle isn’t complete without an occasional herd of elephants crossing the road from the nearby forest. Or see any four of the Big Five. The rhino is not there owing to fears of poaching for its horn. Local joke is that baby rhino is everywhere. They mean warthogs which indeed are everywhere. It’s a long drive but assuaged by the sight of nature untamed and unadulterated beauty. Antithesis awaits at the border.
“Often custom officials are unfriendly and generally treat you as if you have done something wrong. It will assist if they could be more courteous”, said some truckers at the Kazungula border on the Botswana side. It’s a general problem at almost all the ports of entry the world over they say. For the same treatment is experienced elsewhere and not peculiar to this border.
One big problem is that the regulations are not harmonised. Papers could be declared in order in one border post only to be rejected by the next one. One curious incident was at the Ngoma border post between Botswana and Namibia. A traveller tested positive to COVID-19 in Namibia and as per protocols was ordered to isolate. After a mandatory period, was declared harmless to travel by the Namibian authorities as she was “not contagious though still positive”, explains the Namibian border official.
The Botswana officials as they do to all who enter the country did the rapid tests which yield results in fifteen minutes. She was found positive and sent back. The so-called ‘no man’s land’ is a danger as this kind of decision does not take into account the time of the day. If someone is not on vehicle, they are left to own vices. Law enforcement of all countries must not only be harmonised but should work together and not in silos. Closing times in Kazungula also differ. In one side, they will be closing at a particular time whereas just a kilometre away their counterparts close an hour or two later. However authorities are in the process of aligning operating hours.
“Security must be tightened to prevent illicit trade and movement of contrabands. This needs cooperation of member states to ensure our borders are not becoming hubs of misdeeds”, said Mr Mogotsi.
The Trans Kalahari Corridor Secretariat has ideas on solutions to some of these glitches but need all round cooperation and willingness. Member states must as part of harmonisation, ensure toll fees and border tariffs are not fettering business but help it grow. Infrastructural development on either side of the border should be done jointly. This will ensure that investment benefits are not only for long term, but are also not skewed. If not, all efforts that led to the establishment of these trade corridors will be infinitesimal. Africa Its Time! It’s now or never.