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Zambia, Botswana tussle over bridge

Bame Piet

Presidents Hichilema and Masisi expected to meet this week

Almost three years after the completion of the Kazungula Bridge, the governments of Botswana and Zambia are reportedly entangled in a silent power struggle over the establishment of the Kazungula Bridge Authority.

The project, designed to connect the SADC region from Durban to Kinshasa, has hit a roadblock, leading to potential collapse due to differences between the two countries.

Investigations by The Voice reveal that the joint project has strained relations between Botswana and Zambia, causing the infrastructure in Kazungula to suffer vandalism by both wild animals and humans.

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Sources from the Government Enclave suggest that the recent change in the Zambian administration, under President Hakainde Hichilema, has contributed to the stalled process, with Zambian officials allegedly avoiding scheduled meetings and appointments for the past 10 months.

According to an anonymous source, the Zambian government desires the authority to be located on their side, contrary to the initial agreement that favoured Botswana’s side.

Tensions escalated when the new Zambian government took office in September 2021, leading to a breakdown in discussions between the two countries.

Meetings between the committees from both nations took place last in July 2022, where new government officials expressed unfamiliarity with the project and requested time to acquaint themselves with the agreements.

The primary objective of the Kazungula Bridge Authority was to facilitate toll fee collection for bridge maintenance, with excess funds to be shared between Botswana and Zambia.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications confirmed that the Kazungula Bridge Authority has not been established, emphasizing that the member states have yet to form the authority responsible for managing the bridge, collecting fees, and overseeing maintenance.

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Reports indicate that building materials, including 60,000 tonnes of concrete, intended for division between the two countries after the bridge project’s completion, have disappeared without accountability.

“Member States agreed, through a signed agreement to sponsor the Kazungula Bridge on 50/50 basis. However, it is important to note that the member States have not yet established the Kazungula Bridge Authority. Once established, the Authority will be responsible for managing the bridge on behalf of the member States, such as collection of fees and the upkeep or maintenance of the bridge and its associated facilities as per the agreement of the member States,” read the response to our enquiries.

Meanwhile, the Zambian High Commission had not responded to our questions seven days after we sent them.

First Press Secretary, Julia Malunga, said she was still liasing with other government departments to get information for us.

The Zambian High Commission had not responded to inquiries, and the Presidents of both countries are set to meet in Kasane on January 24th to address the ongoing impasse.

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The Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) has reportedly collected approximately P100 million, currently idle due to the standoff.

The Kazungula Bridge, financed by Botswana, Zambia, the African Development Bank, EU Africa Infrastructure Fund, and Japan International Cooperation, opened in May 2021, with a total investment of USD 259.3 million or P3.5 billion.

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