Upon arrival from Botswana on Tuesday afternoon, President Hage Geingob informed the local press that the Government of Botswana has shelved plans relating to the construction of the mooted Trans-Kalahari Railway.Geingob said: “They [Botswana] have shelved the idea in a way because of the current coal stock prices, but they think we can include other things so that the project can be viable because they are determined to come to Walvis Bay to work with us.”Geingob described his two-day State visit as “very successful”. This comes months after The Namibian reported that preparations are underway to commission the Trans-Kalahari Railway Project Management Office in Windhoek, as the key initial phase for the launch and management of the long-awaited multi-billion-dollar railway line between Botswana and Namibia.
The governments of the two countries signed a bilateral agreement in March 2014, paving the way for the facilitation and the construction of a new ‘heavy haul’ 1 500-kilometre railway line stretching from Botswana’s Mmamabula coalfields to Walvis Bay.
In 2014, at the time of the signing of the agreement, the project was expected to cost approximately N$100 billion, while Botswana said it had an estimated 212 billion tonnes of the coal resource. According to the agreement, the railway project was to be funded through private stakeholders.
Both States have prior experience on cross-border projects having jointly constructed the Trans-Kalahari Highway at a cost of N$850 million.Expectations were that once the Trans-Kalahari railway line was operational, 65 million tonnes of coal from Botswana woould be handled at Namport, which in turn is readying itself, as it develops its SADC gateway port, which is also a crucial component to the realisation of the railway line. The Trans-Kalahari railway agreement includes adding a coal terminal and associated loading facilities to the Namibia-Botswana corridor that would benefit other landlocked Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe by providing alternative transportation routes.
By Staff Reporter
President Hage Geingob had nothing but praise for Botswana when he visited that country this week.
Addressing the lawmakers, Geingob hailed the governance structures of Botswana and its stance towards corruption – in a rousing speech to Parliament – in which he also called on the two countries to increase cooperation in the diamond sector.
Last year, Namibia exported diamonds worth over N$10 billion to Botswana, and Geingob further hailed the two countries’ historic ties.
“We are pleased that Gaborone is now gradually becoming the diamond capital of the world and we must cooperate more as fellow diamond producing nations in the same neighbourhood to build up a robust and diversified regional diamond hub,” Geingob said. The Namibian Head of State praised Botswana for the way it handles the diamond industry when he toured the Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB) on Tuesday. He said facilities at DTCB were impressive and Namibia could learn from the diamond processing arrangement between De Beers and the Botswana government-owned Okavango Diamond Company (ODC).
DTCB Managing Director, Tabake Kobedi, explained that they source raw diamonds from De Beers mines in Botswana and elsewhere, cut and polish them before re-selling the commodities back to De Beers and ODC. “We also have similar facilities but these are very impressive. I think we can learn from our brothers. Namibia is not a small player in the industry
but we can learn from what you are doing here. Collaboration is great, we have the best of relationships with Botswana,” said Geingob, adding that the two countries always enjoyed good relations and could work together in diamond business.
Going forward, he said, Botswana and Namibia must act with a sense of greater urgency to stimulate development and achieve our common developmental objectives.
“There are cross-border projects, most notably the construction of a railway line to export Botswana coal to the world markets via Namibia that must be accelerated,” he said.
Geingob also stressed the need for the two countries to embark on similar
beneficial cross-border projects.
“One such initiative that we must be investigated and brought to fruition urgently is the harvesting of seawater for our mutual benefit. We are the two most drought-prone countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the reality is that with climate change, it will only worsen.”
Geingob pointed out that through own resources, as well as tapping into regional development finance institutions and global initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund the two states must fund solutions for their common challenges.“The enduring partnership between Canada and the United States is as strong as it has ever been and we are more closely aligned than ever before.”Geingob reserved heartfelt mention for Botswana’s contribution to Namibia during the liberation struggle when thousands of Namibians displaced by the 1904-08 German genocide were housed in Botswana.He also lauded the Botswana government for the manner in which it has managed its economy over the years. “The prudent and disciplined way in which you have managed your economy has paid off. Fix capital formation has been phenomenal and one can safely say that the Botswana today and the Botswana at independence are miles apart.”
One of the common challenges the two countries are currently grappling with is the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.“I am aware that like Namibia, Botswana continues to face some social deficits. Like Namibia, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS continues to be high, there are pockets of poverty, and some of your citizens still do not have access to descent shelters.“As leader, I believe accountability and transparency are sine quo none for economic development. That is why as a first step I publicly declared my income and assets soon after my inauguration as President. My wife, despite not legally obliged to do so, joined in declaring her assets.”
Geingob said his visit was an opportunity to renew and to strengthen the existing good bilateral relations between our two nations.“Namibia and Botswana are already cooperating in numerous areas for economic and social development towards the mutual benefit of our peoples, and I am looking forward to new and intensified cooperation in years to come,” he said.Some projects that Botswana and Namibia have jointly undertaken in recent years include the Trans-Kalahari Highway and the establishment of dry port facilities for Botswana at the Port of Walvis Bay.The two states are currently busy working on plans to construct a multi-billion-dollar 1 500-kilometre Trans-Kalahari Railway.With hundreds of Botswana nationals travelling to the Namibian seaside during the festive season for holidays, Geingob believes that such trends show that it was not only trade and investment that was stimulated by this important corridor, but also movement of people.
“It is also worth noting that Botswana, after South Africa, is the most important African trading partner of Namibia.”Geingob once more reiterated Namibia’s displeasure over its income classification.“In Namibia, we feel that we have been wrongly classified as upper-middle income, thereby depriving us from accessing grant and concessional funding for developmental purposes,” he said. Economic development simply cannot be captured by one single measure such as GDP, he further stressed.“We must, therefore, do all that we can to address the inequalities that continue to exist among our people,” he said.
During his address in parliament, Geingob opted not to touch on the simmering border tension between Namibia and Botswana over the shootings of Namibians by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) for alleged poaching activities in recent years.
Namibians expected the prevailing trend of Namibians being killed to feature prominently during Geingob’s two-day state visit to Botswana, but it was not the case, as he focused more on development matters.He instead focused on matters such as his vision to deliver prosperity to Namibia, the historic ties between the two States, his Harambee Prosperity Plan, bilateral ties between Namibia and Botswana and his war on poverty.Press Secretary Albertus Aochamub yesterday said the talks surrounding the shootings did not feature prominently during the visit, but assured that the matter is being addressed at the highest level because it is an ongoing matter.“It was raised but this is not a new thing, it is an ongoing thing. It would not have been something to place on the agenda as a fresh item, but the parties are still engaged at the highest level,” he said.
The Namibian earlier this year reported that over the past two decades, 30 Namibians and at least 22 Zimbabweans have been killed in Botswana anti-poaching operations. According to the report: “Namibian community and rights’ groups claim the figure could be much higher. They have urged Botswana to exercise restraint when dealing with poachers. Anti-poaching operations have also increased border tensions between Botswana and Namibia, amid claims that the BDF has violated Namibia’s sovereignty.” The tension is reportedly palpable in Kanbula and other smaller settlements in the Chobe region where BDF raids are frequent. Despite this, while the Namibian government takes a more subtle approach of arresting suspected poachers, their Botswana counterparts continuously opt for the most extreme measures.
The shooting of civilians is seen as unjustifiable by many, mainly because the livelihood of indigenous Namibians living along the Zambezi River depends on river food such as fish found in the shared river systems that has now ironically become a death trap, but the Namibian government has opted for a more soft-landing when addressing the issue in order to prevent a diplomatic brawl and to save both countries from an international embarrassment. The two governments have launched joint investigations and committees to find an amicable solution in recent years but nothing has been forthcoming.
….Khama calls for one-stop border post
A recent State visit to Botswana by President Hage Geingob resulted in further calls by his Botswana counterpart, Lieutenant-General Ian Khama, for the establishment of a one stop border post between the two countries. “I, therefore, wish to urge our officials to ensure that these critical projects…the establishment of a one-stop-border post, are expeditiously implemented,” Khama said without going into much detail. A similar border system exists between Zambia and Zimbabwe at Chirundu and is the first and only functioning border post of its kind in the region. Such an upgrade would most likely make the Buitepos/Mamuno Border post a 24hour entry point. Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) reported that, “Under the one-stop border post scheme, travellers would be cleared just once for passage into another country in contrast with the current situation where travellers have to be sanctioned on both sides of the border.”
The development is said to address issues of delays for travellers seeing as the concept has great capacity to ease congestion at entry points thereby reducing transit time for traders and transporters. Also improved revenue collection at the border, through a faster turnaround time for transporters and improvement of competitiveness of goods in the region due to reduced processing times at the border, according to the OECD and World Trade Organisation, would translate into reduced costs. The SADC border report of 2011 describes the one stop border post (OSBP) as “a concept of placing, by two adjoining countries, each other’s border agency officials in their territory so that one side of the border jointly controls the traffic moving to one direction, e.g. northbound, and the other controls the traffic moving to the opposite direction, for example, southbound. The effect is that the traffic to either direction will stop only at one border post – hence OSBP”. Under this concept, the border would accommodate officials from immigration, customs, bureau of standards, environment, sanitary and phytosanitary agencies.
Meanwhile, Khama alluded to the strong relations the sister countries continue to enjoy, facilitated by the existing Joint Permanent Commission on Cooperation and the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security. “Since these bilateral mechanisms have proved useful in strengthening our bilateral cooperation, we should thus ensure that they continue to operate effectively in order to achieve tangible results for the benefit of our peoples,” Khama said. He enumerated the mutual strategic benefits that the two nations enjoy, emphasising the need to maintain the existing bilateral relations. He also expressed his appreciation for the land Namibia availed to his country for the development of the dry port. He said, “Botswana shall, forever, remain grateful to the Namibian people for their benevolence in availing this piece of land… for development of the port.”
President Khama emphasised that the expeditious implementation of these projects would “enhance trade relations between our two countries and regionally”. He said, “The port will also serve as an important economic trade route for reaching out to the international markets.” He further underscored the role of the Trans-Kalahari Railway line linking Botswana with Namibia. He noted this line as a facilitator of “greater interaction and thus further promote regional trade”. The 1 500-kilometre multi-billion-dollar heavy duty railway project stretches from Mmamabula coalfields all the way to Walvis Bay. It was kicked off following the signing of bilateral agreements between the two countries in March of 2014.
The President noted the severity of the problems the two countries share in spite of the relative peace and stability in the SADC region. He stated that the many problems amid the success stories threaten to undo the collective gains made by the two countries. “We are currently experiencing the worst drought situation as a result of prolonged dry spells and contrastingly debilitating floods as well.” He added, “High levels of poverty, food insecurity, and inadequate electricity supply continue to haunt us.” He emphasised that the challenges the two countries faced were an opportunity to step up their collective efforts in order to find “durable solutions”.
The remarks were made at President Geingob’s inaugural state visit luncheon to Botswana – a country with which Namibia enjoys cordial relations and strong ties through the trade industry and immigration sector. The two countries are also mainly reliant on minerals, tourism and agriculture, while sharing a common history and cultural values.
Namibia and Botswana are parties to a memorandum of understanding on natural resource conservation – the Trans Frontier Conservation Area. They are both largely exporters of beef and thus work together in the veterinary sector as well as control of the foot-and-mouth disease. There also exist efforts of enhanced cooperation between the two countries by twinning of cities. They also both enjoy a long relationship with De Beers Mining Company and are both a party to the Kimberly Process. Geingob’s visit to Botswana signals the cementing of existing relations between the two States.