How a $260 million bridge crossed Africa’s most unusual border

Today, pontoons lie on the shore, fortunately, unnecessary. You can spot them while crossing the Kazungula Bridge, which is 923 meters (3028 feet) long. $260 million project with the joint funding and cooperation of Botswana and Zambia, which, in a year of operation, has already transformed this trade artery of southern Africa.
The bridge was designed to speed up traffic along the Southern African Development Community (SADC) North-South Corridor, a route historically costly border delays.

Copper from the DRC, Zambia and Tanzania is shipped south before being shipped to China. Food from South Africa traveling north. Mining equipment from Tanzania is sent to the DRC and Zambia. Everyone passes through Kazungula, says Kaiko Salim Wamunima, general secretary of the SADC Truck Drivers Association of Zambia.

The bridge opened in May 2021, but it took more than a decade to complete, Kazungula project manager Isaac Chifunda explains.

Geopolitics played a big role in the design of the bridge. Kazungula covers an area of ​​Africa known as the “quadrippoint,” says Chifunda. Sixty-five kilometers (40 miles) upstream of Victoria Falls, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe converge at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers. According to Chifunda, the borders of the countries extend to the rivers, so the Kazungula Bridge has a pronounced curve to cross the landscape, avoiding the Zimbabwean waters.

“Africa was heavily represented in this project,” says Chifunda. Although the South Korean company Daewoo E&C was overseeing the construction, the team, he said, was multinational, and raw materials, including cement, steel and aggregates, came from all over South Africa.

As a significant investment for Zambia and Botswana, the bridge is equipped with technology to ensure its long-term future.

Chifunda explains that the structural condition monitoring system “gives signals about which part of the bridge needs maintenance. And we also have a weather station – we measure the wind speed, the amount of precipitation, we even measure the excitation, that is, the movement (suspension). ) cables.

“In case of danger, the station will send a signal by phone as well as by email so that the two Member States can meet any maintenance needs.”

New customs

There are one-stop customs posts at both ends of the bridge, so cargo crossing the border only needs to be handled by one country. Responsiveness is needed now that there is a higher volume of daily traffic.

An electric pay-as-you-go truck delivers goods on Rwanda's dirt roads.

Chikumbi Chama, assistant commissioner at the Zambia Revenue Authority, says the bridge has allowed for extended opening times and the border is open from 6 am to 10 pm. adds, and “the numbers are growing every day.” But despite the higher traffic volume, “(the) transit period has been reduced to half a day.”

Truck driver Memory Lambie crosses the region with a “LADY BOSS” sign on his windshield. However, she remembers the “big test” crossing the Zambezi before the bridge; 10 km queues at the border and up to two weeks of waiting to get into Zambia. “Now it’s easy,” Lambie says, adding that thanks to faster travel, she can spend more time with her children.

Keep your wheels moving

A year after its opening, the bridge has not yet reached its full potential, because the railway line passing through its center is not yet in operation.

The rail link is designed for both passengers and freight, says Chifunda, project engineer, but the crossings will not operate simultaneously with cars and trucks. “The bridge is designed in such a way that the train and cars cannot move across the bridge at the same time,” he explains. Vehicle traffic is cleared, then a train passes, after which vehicle traffic can resume.

An old pontoon stands on the banks of the Zambezi.  Prior to the bridge, small ferries were the primary means of crossing the river.

Once connected to existing rail infrastructure in Botswana and Zambia, Chama said even more cargo could move across the bridge and across southern Africa.

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This is likely to reduce the cost of transporting goods. BUT African Development Bank Report 2015 identified poor rail connectivity in landlocked countries (such as Botswana and Zambia) as limiting their economic potential. Freight transport by rail with a diesel engine can be up to 75% cheaper than road transport, but roads still cope with the vast majority of cargo in SADC.

“In the future, I see rail transportation as a prominent feature,” adds Chama. But a timeline for when the bridge will be fully connected is unclear as negotiations between Botswana and Zambia continue, Chifunda said.

Meanwhile, trucks continue to ply back and forth on the Zambezi River with more speed and ease than ever before. For drivers like Lambie, this has already become a revelation. “The bridge is 100% perfect for us,” she says.

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