Windhoek-Namibian trucking firms making use of the Sesheke-Livingstone road in Zambia, which forms part of the Walvis Bay Corridor and stretches all the way to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are bemoaning its deplorable state.
Namibian and other truckers lose valuable time and money which impacts on their efficiency and ultimately their competitiveness within the logistics sector.
The heavily-potholed Sesheke-Livingstone road covers a stretch of only 97km, which makes up a portion of the Walvis Bay-Ndola-Lubumbashi Development Corridor as part of the overall Walvis Bay Corridor.
It should take about an hour and a half to drive, but due to gaping potholes that stretch across almost its entire length truck drivers, bus drivers and other motorists take between three to five hours to travel this important road.
To make matters worse, motorists entering Zambia pay a raft of hefty border fees that include insurance paid only in American dollars. In comparison Zambian motorists only pay a pittance when entering Namibia.
Zambian transporters also use the road to convey that country’s main export product, copper, through Namibia to overseas markets, while Namibians transport fish, salt and other exports to Zambia via that road.
“This road is a critical piece of infrastructure for the corridor. Our Zambia office is working tirelessly to ensure the Zambian government prioritises infrastructure development on that road,” said Johny Smith, CEO of the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG).
The Walvis Bay corridors are marketed as an integrated system of “well-maintained tarred roads” and rail networks from the port of Walvis Bay via the Trans-Kalahari, Walvis Bay-Ndola-Lubumbashi Development Corridor (previously known as the Trans-Caprivi), Trans-Cunene and Trans-Oranje corridors, providing landlocked Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries access to transatlantic markets.
“The new and well-maintained port and corridor infrastructure and the safe and efficient transport services provided by the transport industry, coupled with the reliable support of the regulatory authorities, give the Walvis Bay Corridor Group a competitive positioning in achieving its aim of becoming the leading trade route in southern Africa,” reads the WBCG website.
However, local truckers have called for the urgent rehabilitation of the Sesheke road, which they say is riddled with potholes to the extent that it is mostly gravel.
“This road has a negative impact on our operating costs and competitiveness. What makes matters worse is that right now there are no detours or viable alternative routes,” said Kallie Grunschloss, a director of Logistics International, a Namibian company. He added that his drivers have to move at a snail’s pace on the heavily dilapidated road, which often causes breakdowns to trucks – and sometimes the fragile cargo is damaged.
A truck driver, preferring anonymity and who makes frequent use of the road, said drivers want to promote the Walvis Bay corridors as well as the port of Walvis Bay, but this task is made extremely difficult due to the bad state of the Sesheke-Livingstone road, often described as the “highway to hell”.
“Already the cross-border charges going into Zambia are very high and now you find that most small towns in that country charge additional levies such as high parking fares and even through-fare fees. It is almost as if they see the trucks as an additional source of income,” said the Namibian driver.
Towards the end of last year, Zambia’s Western Province Minister, Nathaniel Mubukwanu, provided assurance that the Zambian government would soon rehabilitate the road. Zambian media reported that the assurance came in the wake of local authorities in the area urging Zambia’s Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development to urgently rehabilitate the road due to its economic importance.
However, specific questions sent to the Zambian High Commission in Namibia on January 8 regarding the rehabilitation of the road have gone unanswered for over ten days as the high commission kept ducking and diving. Zambian media reported that local authorities in the Sesheke district have also asked that the road be worked on to enhance trade between Zambia and other southern African countries.
“The importance of the road to the region cannot be over-emphasised as the road connects us with other countries. The copper that we are selling as a country is being transported through this same route,” said one local authority official in the Sesheke area.
In addition, tourism operators in the area have called for urgent action to fix the road, saying it is adversely affecting their businesses.
A former member of the Livingstone Tourism Association, Kingsley Lilamono, has charged that the road is an embarrassment to Zambia and he called on authorities to immediately move in and start working on the road.
“To be honest with you, this is embarrassing for the tourism industry, both to the private and public sector. The question they would usually pose is ‘don’t you care about losing to the competition with your neighbouring countries?’” said Lilamono.
He added that leaving the situation unattended would be a barrier to the development of tourism and the general economy in Zambia.