Friday, 6 June 2008

CHEMBE BRIDGE TINDERBOX

By Gershom Ndhlovu

If the newly constructed Chembe Bridge spanning the Luapula River on the border between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo were a structure replacing Watopa, Lubungu or, indeed, Chiawa pontoons deep inside the country, it would have been Ok to call it Levy Mwanawasa Bridge.

Now, the fact that one leg of the bridge will rest at Mwenda in Congo, and as that country’s ambassador to Zambia claims, that his country will or has contributed 50 percent of the cost of construction, naming it after President Mwanawasa is a definite no, no, no.

Students of International Relations, or even experts like Vernon Mwaanga at that, know what the Realist school says about the “anarchy” that exists in the international arena in which states compete for power and how other nations defend themselves by bargaining and entering into treaties or what is euphemistically called diplomacy by other means--war to you and me.

In the case of Chembe Bridge, Zambia has definitely exhibited the same elements of “international anarchy” by christening an international structure with President Mwanawasa’s name when his brother, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his people are equally stakeholders in the same.

The distance between Mokambo and Mwenda in the DRC may only be 46 km through the pedicle road, so named because of the shape of the outline on the map that appears to be a leg jutting into Zambia, the fact is that it is Congolese territory whether Zambia alone has footed the bill of the construction or not.

It does not even matter if Zambia has plans of tarring the stretch which can be a nightmare driving through especially in the rain season when places like “Gabon” are as muddy as hell.

Mansa District Council secretary Bwanga Kapumpa and Luapula Province Minister Chrispin Musosha should have been the first ones to see the folly of the council actions which are meant, read bent, to please the man whom they want the bridge named after.

It is clear that the local chiefs and other cadres who are defending the diplomatic faux pas, are ignorant about international issues and more so that to them, the people at Mwenda are just as good as their subjects who would not mind going to sell roast cassava and roast groundnuts and tasteless orange drinks at the “Levy Mwanawasa bridge.”

Authorities in Kinshasa would take a tangential view about the whole issue and think about it as “encroachment” on their territory.

Africa is replete with such seemingly innocuous moves of fishermen from one country spreading their nets on an island claimed by another country on a river between two countries and tensions have flared up.

An immediate example that comes to mind is the Kasikili to the Namibians and Sedudu to the Batswana, otherwise known as Kasikili/Sedudu Island on a river separating the two countries which has been a flashing point between the otherwise peaceful neighbours.

The other example, a real thorn in the flesh, is the Bakassi Peninsula separating Nigeria and Cameroon. Nigerians are passionate about the same piece of land while the Cameroonians swear it belongs to them and no one would take it away from them.

Badme between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the Aouzou Strip between Libya and Chad are but other examples.

I am not suggesting anything, but it may seem as if Zambia is claiming that very small peace of land at Mwenda where a thirsty Zambian traveller buys those big Simba and Tembo beer bottles to wash down the dust of the pedicle road which ever direction they are going. The traders there might as well start selling Mosi.

The argument by Kapumpa, Musosha & Co. that the resolution is now “law” just does not wash. Laws and, certainly, council resolutions can be repealed and reversed if they turn out nonsensical particularly in this case where another country is involved.

Talking about eponymous nomenclature, who doesn’t know that in the 1991 euphoria of wiping everything Kaunda from the people’s psyche, all open areas which used to be called Kaunda Square where changed to Freedom or Independence or whatever square people chose to call them?

Similarly, in a few years time when President Mwanawasa exits the political stage, someone will just say “we are reverting to the name Chembe Bridge” and there would be nothing much that he, Mwanawasa or Kapumpa or Musosha will do because it will have been a “council resolution.”

 

 

From the confusion of the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa, it is difficult to pick out what Zambia’s position is. One moment, Defence Minister George Mpombo says the beating of the living hell out of foreigners in South Africa is a blessing in disguise.

The next moment, wearing the hat of home affairs minister, he sheds crocodile tears about the Zambians caught in the South African lunacy.

As if Mpombo’s flip-flopping is not enough, comes more flip-flopping by Information Minister Mike Mulongoti who, at lunch time tells the nation 25,000 Zimbabweans are headed our way but at supper time he comes up with a totally different story.

Little wonder the Zimbabwean High Commissioner to South Africa has laid into the Zambian government on this issue calling it “hogwash” coming from Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour.

The diplomat says the buses that were sighted in Botswana heading north were sent by the Zimbabwean government to pluck out its affected citizens from the blood thirst South Africans.

The road from Tlokweng on the border with South Africa in Botswana runs some 500 km northwards to Ramokgwebana on the border with Zimbabwe. Surely, anyone should have seen the ZUPCO buses zooming towards Zimbabwe.

One shudders to think what the quality of Zambia’s information gathering, or is it intelligence, is if its men in shades can fail to spot the hyphenated number plates on the buses ferrying Zimbabweans to Plumtree via Ramokgwebana mistaking them as heading for Kazungula and our government preparing for imaginary asylum seekers.

President Mwanawasa should save himself the diplomatic embarrassment that has been caused him as the chief diplomat by firing the flipping-floppers who, in the end, turned their ire on hapless SABOT Transport drivers who were genuinely seeking asylum.

 

 

 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

why not call it friendship bridge. What's the big deal aren't katangan and zambian the same people. what's the big deal?

Anonymous said...

What's the economic significance of this bridge anyway?

Theodora said...

Good for people to know.