Africa, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Labour, Trade & Investment, Trade and poverty: Facts beyond theory

ZAMBIA: High-Tech Border Post Transforming Trade

Mufudzi Moyo

KASUMBALESA, Zambia, Apr 18 2011 (IPS) - A few weeks ago, a truck driver got the shock of his life when his employer called from South Africa asking why he had siphoned fuel from his vehicle while awaiting clearance at the Kasumbalesa Border Post between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The driver’s attempts to deny the incident were futile as video footage taken at the border post showed him draining the fuel and handing it to people.

The installation of high tech monitoring equipment means it is no longer business as usual at Kasumbalesa, a border post along one of the busiest trade routes in Africa.

As a truck enters the yard, powerful cameras capture all its details and relay these to different offices, including immigration and customs. Among others, the cameras capture the truck’s company name, the number of axles it has and type of cargo it carries.

When the drivers finally enter the offices, they are expected and the money to be paid for various immigration and customs procedures is already calculated. This means the driver now spends less time on border processes compared to previously, when all processes were manual.

Engineer Avishay Dvir, chief executive of Baran Trade and Investment, a Swiss-based Israeli-owned company contracted to build the new border post, said the new structure “would help improve the speed and volume of trade between countries” in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Negotiations are already underway to install more such technology at other border posts in COMESA. Poor border infrastructure is among the factors that make regional trade more difficult and costly, especially as most goods have to be moved by road.

A 2009 World Bank report on Africa’s infrastructure says long delays at border posts cost hauliers more than 300 dollars per day.

For example, a journey of 2,500 km from Lusaka, Zambia, to the port city of Durban in South Africa takes an average of eight days – four days of travel time and four days spent at border crossings, costing about 2,400 dollars.

Some truck drivers have reported spending a month travelling from Durban to the DRC, with the longest delays being at Kasumbalesa. Reduced trucking turnaround time means more cargo is transported as a driver can now make several trips in a month, instead of spending the whole month on one.

“If such facilities are put across the region, trade will flow at an increased speed as goods cross borders at an increased rate,” said Dvir.

The company has an ambitious dream for an in-transit cargo (ITC) stamp given at one border post and then electronically communicated to the next border post and all others to speed up the clearance processes.

This could mean a truck would only need one ITC stamp identifying its cargo and its final destination, which will reduce the time spent at the border to as little as 10 minutes. Currently, cargo examinations are done manually at Kasumbalesa, but an X-ray machine for trucks is being installed for cargo to be checked as the truck passes.

Explained Dvir: “Our idea is to construct modern border facilities equipped with information and communication technologies across the region. The Zambian government has given us a contract to facelift all the border posts in the country.

“We are also in discussions with governments from other countries, including the DRC, Tanzania and Angola. We are interested in improving conditions at borders in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, especially the Beitbridge Border post which is infamous due to its poor conditions and delays.”

“Work here has become so much easier,” Mushota Bukankala, a shift manager, enthused. “I just stand in the control room where I have a good view of everything happening around.”

Winfred Shawa, a Zambian truck driver, considered retirement due to strenuous working conditions but changed his mind following the installation of the new system.

“I would spend 30 days on the road between South Africa and the DRC, with delays especially at this border, but I no longer spend even a single day here.

“I cannot wait for this system to be adopted at other borders, which will mean that I can make the trip in less than five days, allowing for one or two roadside rests,” said Shawa.

The new look border post has increased employment opportunities for the nearby community. Since January 2011, 250 employees have been recruited. All of them had to first undergo training in IT systems, as most did not have such skills.

The border post company has also committed to provide cash worth 120,000 dollars annually for the neighbouring community’s development. A school is under construction and the plan also includes a clinic and a market.

Various forms of trade at the port have also been affected. In the past, truck drivers would use the long waiting times to sell some of their fuel to locals and fuel dealers. The time to do that is no longer there and, besides, the cameras are always watching from every angle in the yard.

Truck drivers also do not have much time to engage in commercial sex.

The new border post was built over 10 months at a total cost of 25 million dollars through a “build, operate and transfer” agreement between the Zambian government and the company, which got a 20- year concession to manage the border to recover its investments.

The government did not commit any money towards the construction. A crossing fee of 19 dollars per axle of any vehicle which passes through the border post has been introduced and negotiations to charge the travelling public are underway. Government retains the duty and immigration fees.

Republish | | Print |