The construction start of a $100-million bridge to link three countries in southern Africa to a major road and rail transport corridor connecting with northern Africa, a project that was set to commence in January, now is rescheduled for the end of 2011 after one sponsoring country pulled out of the plan.

Map: Walter Konefal
Site for planned bridge between Zambia and Botswana is near the disputed border with Zimbabwe. The bridge would link regions in the north to a north-south transportation corridor that connects to the port of Durban, South Africa.

The Kazungula Bridge was planned by Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The site is near the convergence of their borders, downstream of the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers and 64 kilometers above Victoria Falls.

Amangwe Madisakwane, spokesman for Botswana’s ministry of transport and communications, said on Jan. 18 that the construction start date is now expected to fall in the last quarter of 2011 because Botswana and Zambia had to sign a new agreement excluding Zimbabwe. The two countries also are redesigning and realigning the bridge to ensure it does not reach into Zimbabwe, as was originally intended under the 2006 agreement among the three countries.

Zimbabwe has been in a border dispute with both Botswana and Zambia, particularly in the area where the project is sited. Tensions worsened after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe voided the March 2008 election, which he lost. Mugabe was the sole candidate—and winner—of a re-run election four months later.

Zambia and Botswana have retained France’s Egis BCEOM International S.A. to redesign the 923-meter, prestressed concrete, extradosed cable-stayed crossing. Plans now call for a two-lane bridge with a main span 465 m long. It has a rail line, a 7-m carriageway and 1.9-m-wide sidewalks on each side. The project also includes 3 km of approach roads as well as one-stop border posts and tolling facilities.

“Although there has been a delay in commencing construction, we are looking forward to receiving the final design report by the end of February,” says Brebner Mhango, project office manager for the Southern African Development Community, a regional trading bloc promoting and coordinating the project. “It is possible to have a contract awarded before the end of the year,” he says.

Mhango says Zambia and Botswana have agreed to award a build-own-transfer contract “once the final design report has been received,” but notes the changes will have consequences. “The redesigning—to include the rail component and also to make the bridge longer—will obviously have cost and time implications [for] both Botswana and Zambia,” he says. Construction is expected to take two years longer than the originally planned four years, he says.

Mhango says financing still is under negotiation. The African Development Bank funded the $2.2-million feasibility study, which was delivered by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. Botswana Insurance Fund Management and its Zambian subsidiary, African Life, as well as JICA have all expressed interest in financing the project, but commitments have not been made to date.

The bridge is considered crucial in linking the north-south transport corridor, which runs from Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the north to the port of Durban, South Africa.