Building Bridges for Economic Growth
Construction workers at the Kazungula border post are doing more
than building a bridge over a river – they are building a bridge for
regional integration with the promise of greater economic growth.
Grace Mwashekabo Lumbo Village elder
On either sides of the Zambezi River, hundreds of trucks queue to cross the Kazungula border
between Botswana and Zambia. Looking west is Namibia, looking east Zimbabwe. It is a popular
route and one that is about to get even busier with the construction of the new Kazungula Bridge
Previously, trucks could only cross two at a time at the border using one of two ferries. The waiting
period to make the crossing could take up to three days. This turned into five days and more if one
of the ferries broke down.
The new bridge promises to reduce waiting times to around two hours.
Since the SADC Free Trade Area was introduced in 2008, intra-SADC trade has exploded. Now
every day trucks and trains travel the length and breadth of the SADC region, allowing goods to
flow from the DRC to South Africa and from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean.
SADC’s Protocol on Trade has long recognised the need to facilitate trade in SADC countries. It’s a
key tool to stimulate economic growth and fight poverty in Southern Africa. It commits SADC
Member States to eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers, which would otherwise stem the free
flow of goods throughout the region.
In the first decade after the Trade Protocol went into effect in 2000, intra-SADC trade increased by
155%, from USD 13.2 billion to about USD 34 billion. Now the Kazungula Bridge, deep in the
heart of SADC, will become a prominent pillar in further accelerating the expansion of trade
between the Member States.
In line with the Trade Protocol, the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP)
facilitates the development of seamless, cost-effective trans-boundary infrastructure. The RIDMP is
part of the SADC Infrastructure Vision 2027, of which transport is one of six pillars. The crossing at
Kazungula was one of the missing links to realising the North-South Corridor identified under the
The Kazungula Bridge is central to the corridor as it will ease high volumes of traffic in the region,
facilitate trade, spur economic growth in the area and beyond, and help prepare the SADC region
for the predicted population growth of 72 million people by 2027.
Identified as a key project under SADC’s regional development plan, the bridge is now spearheaded
by the Botswana and Zambian governments. It entails replacing the Kazungula ferry with a 930m
road and rail bridge, with one-stop border posts for either direction.
South African truck driver Johannes Labuschagne, who has been crossing the border for seven years
to transport copper from Zambia to South Africa, says the project is an exciting initiative. His
biggest challenge had been with broken down ferries. When this happened, it regularly caused 5km
of queuing traffic, resulting in massive delays for truck drivers like him.
“We as a transporter feel the greatest burden because when you are supposed to do two loads a
month, you can only do one load a month. So your turnover is cut in half,” says Labuschagne. He
particularly looks forward to the introduction of the onestop border posts: “Once (your truck) is
cleared you drive straight across, stamp your passport and you are off to the client. So that is going
to be a big bonus for us.”
A one-stop border post will be placed on both sides of the bridge so that drivers stop only once at
their point of exit/entry. After clearing customs the driver drives straight through to the next
This eliminates duplication of processes and reduces time thereby increasing vehicle and
crew utilization. The bridge, which is estimated to cost USD 259.3 million, is jointly funded by the
Botswana and Zambian governments and expected to be completed by 2018.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu, on a visit to Kazungula in February 2017 to check on the progress
of the bridge, said: “If Zambia and Botswana succeed, there will be more trade in the region and
The project, President Lungu said, was not just for Botswana and Zambia. “It is intended to invite
and excite investment from outside so that Africans can begin to trade among themselves,” he said.
Construction of the Kazungula Bridge has already created jobs and skill-learning opportunities. A
mobile training unit was set up in 2013 on the Botswana side to train the semi-skilled artisans
needed for the construction of the Kazungula Bridge and other infrastructure projects.
Funded by the Botswana Ministry of Transport and Communications, the unit trained more than 700
semiskilled artisans including bricklayers, tilers and carpenters. Botswana President Ian Khama
proudly noted that two thirds of those trained by the unit had been able to secure jobs.
This was also observed by SADC Tripartite Transport and Transit Facilitation Program Adviser,
Lovemore Bingandadi: “The bridge construction has created new economic opportunities for locals
and major construction firms. Opening the bridge will certainly advance trade and transport
Another immediate benefit of the project was the successful resettlement of Botswana villagers to
nearby Lumbo. Their community has seen exponential growth since over USD 4 million were
invested to resettle the village and reimburse those affected. Once next to the main road leading to
the border post, the village is now a few kilometres away.
Lumbo village elder Grace Mwashekabo remembers
when they had to fetch water from the Zambezi River and
some lived in mud houses. Today the 34 families in the
new village enjoy their new houses, electricity, running
water and a school. “We are well settled here, better than
where we were,” says Mwashekabo.
Some villagers have also been employed as workers by
the Kazungula Bridge project. And many women in the
area are informal traders who are selling to the high
number of people crossing the Zambezi River on a daily
basis. When the bridge is completed, the expected
increase in traffic will mean more potential customers for
them as well.
“The iconic bridge stands as a monument to regional
integration as it is more than a physical link
between two countries,” says Bingandadi. “It’s a conduit
for trade, transportation and movement of people.”