Last year, news from Botswana were saddening. 330 elephants had died in the Okavango Delta where several rivers form a very complex system of twisting channels and wetlands. This year, biologists determined that toxic algae in the river water, not gun-crazed tourists or poachers, had killed the animals. Good news from Botswana came with the announcement that the long-awaited Kazungula Bridge opened on May 10.
“Kazungula Border” is a town of just 1,800 people on the southern shore of the Zambezi River. But for Botswana, which has one of the fastest-growing economies on the African continent, it’s an important location. The borders of four nations come together at this spot, called a quadripoint. In the USA, a quadripoint marks the junction of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Tourists enjoy being in 4 states simultaneously by standing on the big X at Four Corners Monument. No such thing is possible at the edge of Botswana. The borders aren’t straight there. They mark the center of the rivers, at the confluence of the Zambezi and the Chobe. The country of Namibia extends a narrow stretch into this area, Zambia has the largest border to the north, and Zimbabwe in the southeast touches the spot with the edge of a triangle. Being wedged in like that means that Botswana has only about 500 ft of border area with Zambia, a main trade partner. The ferry route from Kazungula, Zambia (population about 5,200) to Kazungula Border would be a quarter mile in a straight line across the Zambezi. But Zimbabwe’s triangle extends some way up the river, so the ferry needs to travel in an arc in order to remain in Zambia and Botswana territory. This is why the ferry dock points upstream instead of straight across. The boat has to go an extra 500 feet due to the wide left turn it makes.
Now, a loan from Japan has provided the new bridge with its curious curved shape. Cars, trucks and railroad trains can cross the mighty Zambezi without touching Zimbabwe. Zambia has no quarrel with that country, but Botswana’s government did not see eye-to-eye with Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe who died in 2019. The United Nations’ “Human Development Index”, which rates life expectancy, education and economic health, is already listing Botswana at the top of African Nations. A new bridge between countries is a further step of peaceful progress.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University.
His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.