Windhoek – If Namibia is to play an increasing role in the regional economic agenda and importantly contribute towards various Africa’s prosperity programmes like the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement to which Namibia recently became signatory, then it needs to focus on creating adequate rail infrastructure and rail connectivity to its neighbours over the next 5-10 years.
Clive Smith, Acting CEO of Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) made these remarks during the Logistics Hub Forum held in Windhoek on July 17, 2018.
“The success of these continental initiatives rests largely on the ease of moving goods and services between countries and regions and it’s here that corridor development, including a robust logistics sector, become indispensable,” he pointed out.
He noted that Namibia had a very short period in which to position herself as a regional powerhouse in transport and logistics and other players in the market, such as Durban, Dar es Salaam and Beira have taken note of their programmes and initiatives and likewise are rolling out various development programmes.
“We have a number of advantages that we need to focus on and we call on the government, through the Ministry of Works and Transport, to continue the committed response and support to the needs and requirements of the transport and logistics sector,” he added.
Smith said transportation infrastructure affects most aspects of economic development, as it serves as a catalyst for other production sectors, be it mining, agriculture or manufacturing.
Moreover, he pointed out that transportation affects regional productivity by connecting different regions to each other and allowing the exchange of goods and services to occur among them.
“Inadequate investment in the transport and logistics sector can hold back economic development, especially in countries with development potential, where transport investment can facilitates economic growth,” said the WBCG boss.
Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Works and Transport, James Sankwasa, said the Southern African railway systems are presently running at a loss, with the exception of Transnet Freight Rail (South Africa) due to its heavy haul lines.
“Our government has also embarked on a programme to upgrade its rail network to 18,5 to axle load in line with the SADC standards, which is a very good fit for the general freight type of traffic conveyed over its network and leverages the inherent strength of higher axle loads on rail,” he said.
Sankwasa said currently, the Namibian network of 2,682 route kilometre can accommodate only 16.5 tonne per axleload and less.
He added that this was about to change, as government had started major projects, such as the rehabilitation and upgrade of the railway from Walvis Bay to Kranzberg, which will commence this year.
Other projects that are also in the pipeline to position Namibia as a logistics hub in view of railways, are the development of rail links from Grootfontein, Rundu and Katima Mulilo; the extension of the rail link from Gobabis to Buitepos and the development of the Trans-Kalahari Railway.
On his part, the newly appointed CEO of TransNamib, Johnny Smith said one of their long-term plans was to have a railway running to Botswana and Zambia and to become a bigger logistics player in the Southern African region.
He said they were going to close all road operations so that they could focus more on their core business, which is moving bulk cargo by rail.
“Let’s focus on what we should be good at,” he added.
TransNamib is raising source funding of more than R2 billion to expand its operations and need 55 reliable locomotives to be able to handle volumes of about 1.5 million tonnes of cargo, according to Smith.
“At the moment, we have only 38 unreliable locomotives,” he said, adding that many of the locomotives are more than 50 years old, which is a challenge to their operations.