BOTSWANA and Zambia yesterday agreed to incorporate Zimbabwe in the US$259 million Kazungula rail and road bridge project as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration cleanses Zimbabwe’s international diplomatic and economic image.
It took President Mnangagwa, Botswana’s leader President Seretse Ian Khama and President Edgar Lungu of Zambia less than 10 minutes to seal a deal that failed to get traction in a decade of poisoned relations with former president Mr Robert Mugabe.
President Mnangagwa; Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo; Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo; Secretary for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Mr George Charamba and other Government officials flew into Kasane yesterday morning and finalised the pact in minutes.
Together with Presidents Khama and Lungu and their delegations, they inspected progress made in the construction of the 923-metre-long bridge.
Talks on the multinational project in Sadc’s North-South Corridor started in 2008 and work commenced in 2014, with Zimbabwe choosing to isolate itself from an initiative that will boost regional trade because Mr Mugabe did not get along with President Khama.
Soon after touring the project, President Mnangagwa and his team returned to Zimbabwe.
On arrival back in Harare, President Mnangagwa said: “Well, that project has been on for the past 10 years and at the time of its conception there were three countries – Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia and they agreed on that bridge.
“Down the line Zimbabwe pulled out as a result of some dispute at the time about the boundary but Zambia and Botswana decided to go ahead with the project.
“So the project has been on for the past 10 years and as you have seen, lots of progress has been made. Now Zimbabwe has decided to come on board and Zambia and Botswana have agreed to have Zimbabwe come on board.”
President Mnangagwa clarified the misconception that Zimbabwe had nothing to benefit from the Kazungula Bridge project.
“The same facilities of a one-stop border post on the Zambia and Botswana side will now be constructed on the Zimbabwe side, and Zimbabwe will contribute to the loan in the same manner Zambia and Botswana are doing. It is a done deal and the three brothers are together again after the 10-year period of isolation,” he said.
Construction of the bridge is being funded through a co-financing arrangement with the African Development Bank and the European Union-Africa Infrastructure Fund Trust.
Under Mr Mugabe, a dispute erupted after he refused to have the bridge enter Zimbabwe’s territory.
This necessitated design altercations with the bridge – which was supposed to go straight into Zimbabwe – now going westwards into Namibia before curving into Zambia.
As such, a bridge that would have been 600m long but for Mr Mugabe’s resistance ended up extending to close to a kilometre.
Presidents Mnangagwa, Khama and Lungu were evidently relaxed in each other’s company yesterday.
Zimbabwe’s leader said: “As we were talking, I said I am their senior because I am the oldest but Khama claims he was the oldest President, and with regards to Lungu, I said ‘I was ahead of you at school’ and he said ‘I was appointed President first’.”
Zimbabwe is opening up for business and President Mnangagwa has set about mending political and economic relations in Sadc and beyond.
He is expected in China soon at Beijing’s invitation.
Last week, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin dispatched his top envoy, Mr Sergey Lavrov, to Harare to bolster political and economic co-operation; while Britain has sent two senior officials to Zimbabwe since December 2017.