Trans-Kalahari Railway project struggling to take off

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> Magreth Nunuhe

Pretoria – The multi-billion Trans-Kalahari Railway line project envisaged to connect Namibia and Botswana via the western harbour town of Walvis Bay and the existing railway line in eastern Botswana is still struggling to take off, four years after the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the development of the 1,500 km railway line.  

The Namibian High Commissioner to Botswana, Mbapeua Muvangua, said last year an office was set up in Namibia to accommodate three Namibian technicians and three technicians from Botswana, but they are still waiting for the later to make their technicians available.

“Once the technicians are in the office, they have the mandate to form public-private partnerships with other investors,” he said, adding that the project requires billions of dollars in investment, which also needs the support of the private investor.

Apart from setting up an office and completing a feasibility study, not much progress has been made in terms of implementation or construction of the railway line that is expected to transport an estimated 90 million tonnes of coal through the railway link from Namibia to Botswana.

The governments of Namibia and Botswana signed the MoU in March 2014 to start the joint venture, which was to see the successful construction of the Trans-Kalahari Railway line, an estimated R100 billion, within a period of five years.

In Namibia, the Trans-Kalahari corridor passes through Gobabis and Omitara in the east of Namibia, before it aligns with the Trans-Kalahari Corridor (TKC) at Okahandja, onwards to Walvis Bay.

In Botswana, the line starts at the Mmamabula coal fields, where it connects to the existing railway line up to Rasesa. 

Then it turns west, passing north of Molepolole and east of Letlhakeng, joining the Molepolole-Kang road around Maboane, thereafter aligning to the Molepolole-Kang road up to Maramosu where it will run along the TKC through to the Mamuno border post.

Both countries are supposed to bear the cost of construction within their territories.

According to media reports, Mamabula coalfields hold massive coal deposits that could generate an income of about P136 billion (about R167 billion at current exchange rates).

Regarding trade, the Namibian High Commissioner said like Namibia, Botswana is keen on investing in renewable energy, and both countries share many similar products that they can both benefit from, such as tourism.

“We are in the same trans-frontier areas – the Kavango-Zambezi trans-frontiers. Tourists do visit the north-west part of Botswana going into the Zambezi. These are areas we can work together on,” said Muvangua.

He added that Botswana has created a one-stop shop and any potential investor can go to the Botswana Trade and Investment Centre and get all the assistance they need.

Muvangua said Botswana was facing similar economic challenges like Namibia in terms of slow growth and youth unemployment, but the former, which has been independent for 52 years, has strong foreign reserves which they use as a guarantee to stimulate their economy.

“Two years ago, the President of Botswana (Ian Khama) launched the economic stimulus package and went into the foreign reserves to withdraw money,” he disclosed, saying the money helped to develop infrastructure such as roads, schools and clinics and employment projects for the youths.

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