October 14, 2008

Botswana President Leaves for Namibia to Resolve Walvis Bay Dry Port Deal

Text of report by Botswana newspaper Mmegi on 13 October

[Report by Monkagedi Gaotlhobogwe: "Khama off to fast-track projects in Namibia"]

President Ian Khama is jetting off to Namibia today to fast track the construction of a Botswana harbour facility at Walvis Bay.

Reliable sources in government told Monitor that the two presidents will unlock the logjam that has dogged negotiations for the lease of land for the construction of the facility.

The project was first mooted under former President Festus Mogae but was delayed because Botswana and Namibia have disagreed on the terms of the lease. The construction of a Botswana port at Walvis Bay has not taken off since Namibia offered Botswana a 36,400sqm for use as a dry port a few years ago. Both countries have been dragging their feet in signing the lease agreement that should pave way for the development of the port. Gerald Thipe, the Coordinator of the Transport Hub in Botswana previously described the issue as sensitive.

On 8 February this year, both countries signed a memorandum of agreement for the development of the port. Initially the Namibian government was willing to give the piece of land to landlocked Botswana for good. But the Botswana government settled for a renewable 50-year lease.

However the two countries are yet to conclude a lease agreement, which should stipulate the terms and conditions of use of the piece of land. Thipe previously said that the development of the plot cannot be done until the lease agreement is sealed. Both governments have failed to agree on the proposed terms and conditions of the lease.

In his one day working visit to Windhoek, Khama will hold bilateral talks with his Namibian counterpart, Hifikepunye Pohamba. The two are expected to unlock the logjam in the negotiations and expedite the project. Khama and Pohamba are expected to preside over the signing of the memorandum of agreement committing both governments to investing in a Trans-Kalahari railway line that will connect Botswana to the Walvis Bay Port.

The railway line has been proposed by coal mining company, CIC Energy. The company is building a giant coal and power generation project at Mmamabula near Mahalapye. CIC Energy intends to export coal through the Trans-Kalahari railway line via Namibian ports.

The company has already successfully tabled the proposal to the Namibian government.

The proposal has been well received by the Namibian cabinet. However the Botswana government is yet to commit itself to the railway project.

It is expected that today's meeting in Namibia will result in Khama and Works and Transport Minister Johnny Swartz putting pen to paper on how both governments will fund the project. Besides Swartz, other senior officials on the trip to Namibia are Minister of Science, Communications and Technology, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi; the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Dikgakgamatso Seretse; and several Permanent Secretaries.

Originally published by Mmegi, Gaborone, in English 13 Oct 08.

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