THE purported intention to dredge the Zambezi River to improve navigability for the 360-horsepower barge christened “Richard Kapelwa Kabajani” seems to be unwise and may have far-reaching consequences if carried through.
The Ministry of Works and Transport knows quite well it should not have bought this barge without conducting a proper study to ensure it gets value for its money by procuring an all-weather barge that is suitable for the Zambezi River.
To buy a barge that operates only during the rainy season when the water level in the Zambezi is high enough for its navigability is irrational, defies logic and makes a mockery of the government’s stated objective of efficient service delivery.
We should point out the fact that before independence, there was a barge that efficiently used to ferry people three times a week, operating from Finaughty at Katima Mulilo to Impalila - and this happened irrespective of the season and even then, the colonial-era planners saw no need to dredge the river.
We are not against the procurement of the barge per se. There is a general sentiment or view that officials were in haste when they procured this ferry without considering the specifications and its suitability to service the Kabbe constituency.
This rashness has now necessitated the decision to “dredge’’ the Zambezi River, a process that is bound to have massive financial and potentially adverse environmental implications, considering that the Zambezi River forms part of a fragile eco-system.
The riparian communities living along the river should have been consulted and their input would have proven inestimable. Many of them are highly-knowledgeable about the characteristics of this fragile eco-system, with a river that has over time consistently shifted its course, because of silting among other factors.
Ideally, government policies should reflect community preferences. In the Caprivi Region, the livelihoods of the majority of rural people are intimately linked to the ecology of the river and they possess profound traditional knowledge which remains untapped.
Local knowledge should be used more widely because we appear overly reliant on river fisheries science, which is dominated by
“westernised” approaches – and dredging is just one such approach.
Moreover, riparian systems provide a rich and varied biological environment, which we can ill afford to tamper with, without courting an ecological disaster.
But alas, the decision-makers chose to ignore the community and went ahead to purchase this barge which took to the river only once during its maiden voyage almost two years ago.
Today the vessel is lying at anchor and rusting, completely exposed to nature’s elements, while residents of the Kabbe constituency, for which it was bought, still have to travel to Botswana and Zambia for their day-to-day necessities.
Can the Ministry of Works and Transport not trade in this cumbersome, unwieldy and inefficient barge for a suitable vessel that will carry passengers without having to tamper with nature?
Why did the ministry select an expensive bidder when another supplier had reportedly offered a ferry that was cheaper and possibly more suitable for the Zambezi River?
Have the authorities undertaken a proper study to ensure the planned dredging would not impact on current the bio-diversity of the river with all its fauna and flora, considering the fact that hundreds of people along the river depend on subsistence river fisheries and tourism?
There are just too many questions that arise from the manner in which this boat was procured. As if this is not enough the authorities now want to breathe life into this embarrassing white elephant by dredging the river, but at what price?
How long will the planned dredging last, considering the fact that protocol dictates Zambia needs to be consulted, because the Zambezi River is a shared resource?
There are just too numerous questions that cannot simply be wished away. Having said that, we humbly urge the relevant authorities to carefully review and reconsider the wisdom of dredging the Zambezi River, before we end up with a situation of too little, too late!
There is an adage that goes ‘don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant’. Let us pray that the seeds we intend to plant today, will not turn out to be the seeds of our own destruction tomorrow.