WINDHOEK – The success of eventually setting up Namibia as the logistics hub for the southern African region depends, largely, on avoiding the costly mistakes of the past, of which there are some. It is for this reason that the Walvis Bay Corridor Group acting chief executive officer, Clive Smith, points out that works are currently underway to ensure that the N$4.1 billion Port of Walvis Bay container terminal does not become a waste of money. The terminal would increase the throughput capacity to 750 000 TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units) per annum when it is completed next year, from the current 355 000 TEUs. For a port that currently only utilises 60 percent of the 355 000 TEUs capacity, the urgency now is on finding additional cargo to push through the new terminal, otherwise the most beautiful container terminal would only be a good investment on paper, but with no economic benefit for the country.
“We need to find cargo for the new terminal. That is our current highest headache. We have only used 60 percent of the current tonnage, the new terminal doubles [the current tonnage],” admits Smith.
Perhaps one of the mistake the corridor wishes to avoid is the lack of coordination with the Angolan counterparts on the 55 km long railway between Ondangwa and Oshikango, which has meant that the railway is currently on the verge of being declared a white elephant, essentially writing off the more than N$310 million poured into that portion of the line. By the time the railway line was completed–it ends one kilometre inside the Angolan territory, the Angolan government has made up its mind on that its own railway line would transverse a few kilometres east, where a trading zone of bonded clearing warehouses were being set up inside Angola, essentially a new gate competing with the trading zone inside Namibia at Oshikango border post. The fall in oil prices did not help as they forced Angola to reprioritise its development activities in the deeper interior of the country.
Smith flatly declined to comment on the topic of railway line into Angola, other than saying that previously the Walvis Bay Corridor Group had been focusing on specific roles, inline with the needs of the time. Now, and with lesson learnt, the Walvis Bay Corridor Group is working on ensuring the practicality in the implementation of projects between the private sector and public entities involved, including countries neighbouring Namibia. There are regular consultations with neighbouring countries, many of whom have not only given their assurances, and all governments concerned are working from the same plan of action.
The Walvis Bay Corridor Group’s public-private partnership set-up allows it to pool resources and authorities of both transport regulators and transport operators, thus effectively serving as a facilitation centre and a one-stop shop coordinating trade along the Walvis Bay Corridors and linking Namibia and its ports to the rest of the southern African region.
Smith says there is so much potential for Namibia, whose Port of Walvis Bay has been “recognised as one of the efficient port, even though it is small”. Further, he says that Namibia’s transport infrastructure remains competitive, issues of safety and security are guaranteed in Namibia unlike with the neighbouring country of South Africa where cargo is stolen from trucks and disappear. Also the good infrastructure means that many countries can push their cargo through Namibia, instead of using Mozambique’s Beira or South Africa’s Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
The only biggest headache now for Namibia is the railway line that is outdated and need repairs. Smith points out that DRC can push through nearly 4 million tonnes of cargo while Zambia can push 2 million tonnes of cargo through to Walvis Bay. The mines in Upington, South Africa, can actually use the Port of Luderitz, which is nearer than the ports in Durban or Cape Town. “Discussions are ongoing to improve the port [Luderitz], the railway is there but we have no capacity at the port,” said Smith. He is also optimistic that the railway network throughout the country would soon undergo massive rehabilitation, and say once that is done the country’s logistic and transport sector would be able to pull cargo from Walvis Bay to Grootfontein, from where Zambia would be able to pick up cargo. This, says Smith, would help add value in the corridors and disperse economic to other parts of the country, creating employment outside areas such as Windhoek.
‘There are plans, well crafted plans, but the problem is funding. We know exactly what measures need to be done. The biggest challenge is funding,” he says of the railway rehabilitations across the country.
The road network too he added needs to be infused with economic activities, because currently trucks drives from the Port throughout to its destination without any economic activities taking place in the towns dotting the road in the transport corridors. This too is being looked at to have some value addition and economic activities spread out within the transport corridors. Smith is optimistic that Namibia would in the short span of time realise its logistic hub dream, and points at how Dubai was able to transform itself from that of a desert into a world destination with skyscrapers previously not thought about. “They did that in 22 years, Namibia too can do it, judging by what the country has been able to achieve in 28 years. It was not long ago that no shipping line was able to call on the Port of Walvis Bay. Now they are. Before that, to transport cargo to Zambia one had to go through South Africa and Beira. In 2015, we were able to transport 10 000 metric tonnes of rice from Vietnam, the biggest cargo, because of the bridge from Katima Mulilo to Zambia,” he says.