Stalemate over impounded Namibian trucks

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Edgar Brandt

Windhoek-It is not yet clear what progress has been made to release about 200 Namibian trucks impounded by the Zambian government in February this year.

The Zambian High Commission in Windhoek yesterday said it does not yet have any answers about the fate of the trucks, which were transporting mukula timber (African padauk) from the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC).

At this stage, the High Commission could only say it forwarded questions from this reporter to the Zambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lusaka.

In February, the trucks contracted by various customers to transport timber from the DRC were intersected and impounded by the Zambian authorities once they entered Zambian territory.

However, the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) has questioned the legality of the truck seizures as the goods on the trucks were not harvested in Zambia but by businesses with valid permits operating in the DRC.

The NCCI is adamant the Namibian truckers were simply transporting goods from suppliers to the clients and were never involved in the harvesting of the timber.

“We understand that the mukula timber, which caused the impounding, is prohibited to be harvested in Zambia but not in the DRC.

“Our trucks carried timber from the DRC with valid documentation, which was inspected by Zambian customs officials and found to be valid and authentic.

“The Zambian authorities even sealed the cargo at the Kasumbalesa border post between DRC and Zambia, which under normal circumstances would be inspected again at the Sesheke-Katima Mulilo border post,” NCCI CEO Tarah Shaanika said during a recent media briefing.

“Despite the valid and authentic documents, which our drivers had, and despite the Zambian authorities having satisfied themselves at the border that the trucks were carrying goods legally, the same Zambian authorities still impounded trucks.

“While the harvesting of mukula timber is not permitted in Zambia, Zambian law never disallowed such timber to be transported on the country’s roads until April 2017 when they reportedly passed a law preventing the transportation of mukula timber on Zambian roads.

“This law was enacted and implemented retrospectively, which is neither normal nor legal. The NCCI has engaged the Zambian and Namibian authorities on several occasions to resolve this dispute diplomatically and amicably, but these efforts did not yield any results. Our trucks remain impounded illegally by the Zambian government,” a clearly irate Shaanika said.

He added that as a result of the impounding, the truck drivers have been living in deplorable and inhumane conditions in Zambia for the past five months.

Our members (the trucking companies) lost a lot of money totalling close to N$100 million. Their trucks have been standing in Zambia without generating income and some of our members are at risk of losing their businesses all together,” he added.

The governments of the DRC, Zambia and Namibia signed the Walvis Bay-Ndola-Lubumbashi corridor agreement in 2010, which was designed to promote trade within the region and globally.

Shaanika noted there had been a significant growth in the movement of goods along this corridor.

A number of trucks have been transporting goods to Zambia from the Port of Walvis Bay.
However, it made no business sense for the trucks to return empty and therefore many trucks from various countries, primarily Namibia, Zambia, DRC, Tanzania and South Africa, started transporting timber from the DRC as a return load.

“It is unfortunate and regrettable that the Zambian authorities decided to impound trucks for such a long time instead of impounding the product, which they were trying to protect. The impounding of our trucks has harmed our economy severely, at a time when our economy is already not doing well.

There is clear evidence of the impact of the impounding of our trucks on the transport and logistics sector in Namibia. There is currently large amounts of cargo that cannot be transported out of the Port of Walvis Bay due to lack of trucks, because so many of them are kept standing in Zambia,” Shaanika explained.

“As a representative body for businesses in Namibia, we demand an immediate release of our trucks unconditionally. We further urge the Zambian and all other governments which are party to the Walvis Bay-Ndola-Lubumbashi Development Corridor agreement to adhere strictly to this agreement in order to ensure the corridor plays its rightful role in the development of trade within SADC,” the NCCI executive demanded.

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