The just-ended Zimbabwe Botswana Bi-national Commission promises to bear fruit for the SADC regional integration agenda as a railway line linking Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique emerged as one of the key areas of agreement.
Zimbabwe and Botswana signed the memorandum of understanding, which will see the construction of a railway line the length of which is projected to be close to 2 000 kilometres. Although proposals for the Port Techobanine Inter-regional Heavy Haul Railway project go back a number of years, there was a degree of reluctance to take steps to ensure work began on the ground. But with the change of leadership in both Zimbabwe and Botswana, the new presidents appear keen to kick off the project. Both Zimbabwe and Botswana are set to benefit from the railway line as they are landlocked. Mozambique will gain increased traffic as ports in South Africa and Tanzania enjoy more prominence.
Speaking after the signing of the agreements last week, Botswana President HE Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi said the railway line would boost regional integration.
“Among the crucial projects we agreed on is the Port Techobanine Inter-regional Heavy Haul Railway project which will result in the creation of an international trade route linking Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the eastern markets,” said President Masisi.
“The project needs to be fast-tracked because being a vital trade corridor, the project will unlock the economic potential of the three countries and contribute towards greater regional integration,” he added.
He also emphasised the need for implementation mechanisms which will ensure the deal comes to life as soon as possible. For his part, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa reiterated Masisi’s words, saying there was a need for the project to be quickly implemented, as it carried economic value for all involved countries. The railway line augurs well for the SADC theme on infrastructure development, which speaks of the formulation of infrastructure to promote regional integration.
According to SADC; “Regional infrastructure development creates a larger market and greater economic opportunities and the development of infrastructure is critical for promoting and sustaining regional economic development, trade and investment and will contribute to poverty eradication and improved social conditions.”
The railway line deal, which has been in the pipeline for many years, has long documented benefits to trade in the region. In 2016, then Zimbabwean Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Dr Joram Gumbo said the railway line would boost investment.
“The Ponta Techobanine Inter-regional Heavy Haul Railway project is expected to facilitate investment in mining, transport and manufacturing sectors that have been stunted in Zimbabwe and Botswana alike due to lack of seaport facilities for the importation of material and components and the export of ore products and finished commodities,” said Dr Gumbo at the time.
If the project succeeds, it would become one of the most notable infrastructure projects in the region, as it would link more than two SADC countries. The railway line is expected to link Francistown in Botswana, Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and the Mozambican port of Techobanine to facilitate enhanced regional trade.
Last year and during President Mnangagwa’s state visit to Botswana, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister, Dr Sibusiso Moyo said the matter was one of the items under discussion between the two countries.
“There were a lot of talks that we held with our colleagues in Botswana on economic projects that will facilitate greater regional integration.
“One of the projects that we talked about was the construction of a railway line, which will be a tripartite agreement between Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. The plan is that this railway line will get to the port in Mozambique, thereby laying the platform for the enhancement of trade,” he said then.
Moyo said the three countries are now working on timelines to facilitate implementation of the project.
“This is going to be a win-win project for all the three countries. Respective ministers from all three countries are now working on this deal and we have set the timelines for feedback.
“We are also going to review the agreements that have already been signed and give ourselves time frames for implementation as prescribed by these agreements.”
The three countries’ Governments, as well as private partners are expected to provide funding for the project. In 2016, the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) according to which each country was expected to provide US$200 million towards the cost of the project, with the rest of the work to be done through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
Upon completion, the venture will facilitate inter-regional trade through the movement of passenger rail traffic and up to 12 million tonnes of goods per annum through the three countries.
There is hope that the South Africa-Zimbabwe Bi-national Commission, which was due to meet this week will also have similar results which will result in regional integration and enhanced trade prospects for SADC countries.
It appears SADC countries have decided to stand with Zimbabwe as its re-engagement efforts intensify.