Construction of a railway line connecting the port of Walvis Bay in Namibia with Zimbabwe, through Botswana, and all the way to the ports of Mozambique should be a project that leaders in the region must seriously consider.
This, if implemented, would be a step in the right direction by SADC member states as it would promote the regional bloc’s infrastructure development and integration.
This would enhance trade and promote the fast movement of goods across the entire SADC region. As we reported last week, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was in Namibia on an official visit, officially opened a dry port facility in Walvis Bay on land leased to his country by Namibia.
Namibia has also given land for the development of dry ports in Walvis Bay to Botswana and Zambia. We believe the move by Windhoek takes relations among SADC to another level, which will in the end enhance their economic and trade ties.
A dry port is a city away from a sea where formalities for exports or imports (through the sea) are completed and shipments sent from there to sea ports for loading on ships where no more paperwork is required. The dry ports at Walvis Bay are thus expected to provide a strategic and cheaper gateway to the Atlantic Ocean for regional manufacturers and international businesses.
Speaking when he opened the dry port, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe and Namibia were considering constructing a railway line linking the two countries to further enhance the movement of goods to and from the port.
We believe this is an idea that must be taken seriously not only by the two countries, but by other SADC countries. Such a railway would connect to the Trans-Kalahari railway, the multi-billion dollar railway line envisaged to connect Botswana and Namibia from Walvis Bay. The Trans-Kalahari railway project was expected to be funded by Namibia and Botswana, but it is our view that with the opening of the Zimbabwe dry port in Walvis Bay, that country can too join this project since the benefits accruing across the SADC region would be immense.
The dry port opened last week should therefore give stimulus to the Trans-Kahalari project. We envision a situation where there would be a railway linking the port of Walvis Bay with the ports of Beira and Maputo in Mozambique. Such a massive project would not only promote the movement of goods from the west into Southern Africa, but also imports from the east into the region. We believe this will also ease the movement of people across the SADC region.
Already, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a railway linking Gaborone in Botswana with the port of Techobanine in Mozambique, through Zimbabwe. According to the MoU signed by the three states, each country’s government as well as private partners are expected to offer funds for the project, with each country expected to provide US$200m towards the cost of the project with the rest of the work to be done through a public-private partnerships.
But with the opening of the dry ports in Walvis Bay, why not expand the railway line to Walvis Bay so that there is a railway line linking Southern Africa’s eastern ports to the western ports? Such a venture would facilitate inter-regional trade upon completion, through shipment of passengers and millions of tonnes of goods a year passing through the region.
This railway line, if constructed, would conform well with SADC’s objectives on infrastructure development which encourages formulation of infrastructure to promote regional integration.
According to SADC, infrastructure development forms a larger market and greater economic opportunities and is critical for promoting and sustaining regional economic development, trade and investment. It also contributes to poverty eradication and improved social conditions.
A railway line connecting Walvis Bay with Maputo or Beira through Botswana and Zimbabwe will thus increase trade among SADC member states. It will be a vital link to several transport corridors as it will connect SADC to Comesa, the East African Community and beyond.
It will link up with the trade corridors such as the Trans-Kalahari, the Trans-Caprivi, the Trans-Kunene and Trans-Orange, which link several southern, eastern and central African countries, offering SADC member states plenty of opportunities and options, and access to vast markets and destinations.
This will feed into the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area which seeks to promote trade and free movement of goods across a market of 1,3 billion people on the continent.
What is needed now is for this idea to be further explored and implemented. We believe this would be a worthy investment by SADC member states and such a brilliant idea should not die on the drawing board.
The region has got the planners and engineers for such a project and could leverage its vast mineral resources to development this massive infrastructure project. Public-private partnerships can also be entered into to bring this project to fruition. We believe the benefits accruing from such a project are immense and would make Southern Africa a haven of investors and a leading building bloc for AfCFTA.