Botswana Zimbabwe seal AfCFTA agreement
31 Jan 2023
December 16, 2022 was yet another watershed moment for the Botswana Railways (BR). That day and after so many years, locomotive driver, Mr Vivian Forbes, found himself driving past the small town of Plumtree for a freight handover to the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
This was the first time since establishment of the railway line in Botswana in 1894 and BR in 1987 that its trains went inland as far as Bulawayo. All these years, Plumtree served as the handover point between BR and NRZ.
“Cross-border operations are special in the rail transport industry but are invariably not without any difficulties,” says Mr Forbes.
He explains that essentially what comes to play in the grand scheme of things are a variety of regulatory measures and traffic management systems besides communication problems given the different languages spoken across borders.
However, in his four-decade experience as a train driver crossing into Zimbabwe, Mr Forbes says he was confident that he would make it safely to Bulawayo. Little did it occur to him that such a feat would be a historic moment and a major milestone for Botswana and Zimbabwe’s rail industry culminating with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Francistown allowing for borderless trains.
This means that BR trains will go all the way to Bulawayo especially during instances where NRZ does not have capacity for handover in Plumtree. Likewise, NRZ trains will also drive up to Francistown.
BR freight comprises mainly coal, cement, salt and soda ash destined for to international markets through the port of Beira in Mozambique.
Consequently, of huge interest is that December 16, 2022 will go down in the annuls of history as a major breakthrough for Botswana and Zimbabwe in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA ).
AfCFTA is the flagship project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, a blueprint for attaining inclusive and sustainable development across the continent over the next 50 years.
It aims to boost intra-African trade by providing a comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreements among the member states, covering trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights and competition policy.
The agreement came into force on May 30, 2019 for the 24 countries that had deposited their instruments of ratification with the African Union Commission (AUC).
Botswana, represented by President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi signed the AfCFTA in March 2019 whilst Zimbabwe appended its signature in March 2018 and subsequently ratified on April 25, 2019.
BR Board Chairperson, Mr Mmoloki Ramaeba, says the two rail administrators offer seamless, rail-based transport logistics solutions to customers needing to move a range of commodities for the mining sector and primary industries.
These commodities, he says, include but not limited to cement, coal, copper, fuel, salt, soda ash and containers.
“Grain is also transported to the Middle-East by rail transport,” he adds.
He explains that coal from Morupule Colliery Mine and Sese Mine is transported to international markets whilst petroleum products from South Africa and Mozambique are brought into Botswana
“Grain from South Africa to local customers and in transit to Zimbabwe is also transported by our rail in Botswana,” he observes delightedly.
The chairperson further states that it is possible to position Botswana as a logistic hub and relationships such as BR and NRZ have will go a long way in facilitating this agenda.
“When we launched the coal train passing through Zimbabwe to Mozambique in April, we obviously came across teething problems which were largely around resource availability, the main resources being locomotives and wagons,” recalls Mr Ramaeba.
Mr Ramaeba, however, explains that the challenges are not insurmountable, saying BR has up to date moved 26 trains through the Limpopo route.
He is upbeat that prospects abound, one of BR’s valued customers who prefers the Limpopo route will be starting April this year by moving 240 000 tonnes of coal per annum.
This, he reckons, translates into 96 trains per annum at eight trains per month, which is a welcome development for regional integration.
Mr Ramaeba says this demand, though very fruitful, exerts so much pressure on the railway administrators to be as innovative as they possibly can.
He says in the new arrangement where the non-owning administrator does not have locomotives or wagons, the owning administrator could proceed into the non-owning administrator’s lines with its freight and reach closer to the markets.
Mr Ramaeba further explains that the launch of the trains is a major breakthrough which adds impetus to the smooth running of trains between Botswana and Zimbabwe through BR and NRZ.
He says BR has been searching for this arrangement for many years because it has established overseas markets through the Limpopo route.
“Last year April, BR celebrated yet another milestone when we sent off a 40-wagon coal train from Morupule Coal Mine to overseas markets through the Limpopo route” states Mr Ramaeba.
He reckons the Limpopo route as a very strategic corridor for Botswana in as much as Botswana is a gateway into Central Africa and the rest of the world.
Botswana now needs to have strategic corridors as well as alternatives to the ports which Mr Ramaeba highlights should act as enablers for transport and logistics within the region.
Director of Transport Policy and Planning in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, Mr Orapeleng Mosigi, adds that the signing of the MoA is a breakthrough and big achievement for the two rail entities.
“This is a breakthrough. One of its main objectives seeks to create a single market for goods,” enthuses an excited Mr Mosigi.
He notes that rail transport is one mode of transport that can integrate countries and regions, saying the implementation of the AfCFTA will need rail infrastructures that trade between countries.
“It is for this reason that the MoU we are signing is important in the delivery of the aspirations of our leaders of growing Intra-Africa trade,” he adds.
Mr Mosigi states that through the MoA, goods and services will be delivered on time and cost effectively.
He explains that this initiative will surely go a long way in fostering and facilitating fluidity of traffic over BR and NRZ lines.
“This without doubt will be music to the ears of our customers and clients who seek from us nothing but effective, reliable and seamless services,” he adds.
NRZ chief executive officer, Ms Respina Zinyanduko, is over the moon, indicating that the new MoU will go a long way in making sure that the two countries continue to search for more international markets.
She says NRZ will work closely with BR and Transnet Freight Rail of South Africa in providing end to end transport logistics from imports, exports and transit traffic.
Ms Zinyanduko explains that BR views suppliers as strategic partners who offer service and goods to ensure the organisation can serve its customers diligently.
BR acting chief executive officer, Ms Chelesile Malele explains that the project will enable the two national railway administrators to strengthen their working relationship and in turn improve efficiency in their transportation operations.
Ms Malele says through the MoU, BR trains will now drive all the way to Bulawayo instead of returning in Plumtree, particularly in instances where NRZ does not have the capacity to take over from BR trains at Plumtree as is often the case.
Francistown deputy mayor, Mr Lesego Kwambala is pleased that the launch was done in Francistown.
Mr Kwambala adds that because of its location, Francistown connects Botswana to Zimbabwe, Zambia and other countries in central Africa through the Francistown-Kazungula road.
“The history of Francistown is closed tied to that of the railway line, which was built in the late 1800s to transport goods form the mining town of Francistown to South Africa and beyond,” he said.
He also explains that the growth of the railway line has been integral to providing the economy of Francistown and providing easy access to many of Botswana’s major cities as well as international markets. “As a result, Francistown has become an important hub for commerce and transportation, playing a key role in connecting Botswana with the rest of Africa,” he says. ENDS
Source : BOPA
Author : Thamani Shabani
Location : FRANCISTOWN
Event : Interview
Date : 31 Jan 2023