While SADC leaders have ratified the protocol to facilitate the movement of goods, some countries have been throwing the spanners in the works to frustrate the smooth workings of the protocol.
The protocol is aimed at easing doing business in the SADC region and ultimately at regional integration.
If what Botswana has done to its own landlocked neighbour is anything to go by, the idea of a SADC free trade agreement may just as well be thrown in the dustbin.
Zimbabwe car dealers had been using the Port of Walvis Bay in Namibia to import second hand vehicles from Europe and driving them through Botswana using the Trans Kalahari Highway.
The highway had been constructed at great cost by Namibia and Botswana to facilitate the free movement of goods and people to SADC landlocked countries. And it had been used for that purpose by those countries including Botswana.
The Trans Kalahari is the cheapest way for Zimbabwe’s car traders to delivery their vehicles to their country.
But, now that this conduit pipeline has been blocked by Gaborone, the traders will have to use other more expensive routes or means to deliver the vehicles to Zimbabwe.
Only registered car transporters or flat-bed truck carriers can be used to transport vehicles using Botswana’s roads to transit vehicles not for use in Botswana.
The Gaborone government pulled out an existing legislation the effect the ban the use of its roads by unregistered vehicles passing through its territory.
It boggles once mind why the Road Traffic Act had not been applied right from the beginning not to allow these vehicles on Botswana’s roads. Something else must be at play one suspects than the myriad of explanations given by Botswana.
According to the country’s Transport and Communication Ministry the ban was imposed after realising that most unregistered vehicles’ road worthiness was unknown, thus posing a danger to the public. Apparently some of these vehicles are used in robberies.
The country also threatened that any unregistered vehicle found on its roads would be impounded.
The SADC protocol on the facilitation of the free movement of goods and people is not worth the paper it is written on if individual countries subject it to their national laws. The protocol should supersede any national law of a country acceding to it and individual SADC countries should instead harmonise their national laws to be in line with the any SADC protocol.
The latest decree follows a ban by Botswana in March last year of the importation of second hand vehicles older than five years. This was in compliance of a Southern Africa Customs Union agreement prohibiting the use of and registration of imported second hand vehicles that are more than five years old.
That decision has not only had negative implications for SADC landlocked but for Namibia as well.
Before the March 2013 ban, Botswana earned itself respect in the region, particularly in Namibia, for allowing the sale of second hand vehicles from its territory, and its second hand vehicles became to be known as “Thank you Botswana” in Namibia at a time when South Africa shut its ports to grey Asian imports.
Namibia’s taxi industry greatly benefitted from Botswana’s generosity and more than 80 percent of taxi’s in Namibia’s major towns are grey Asian imports which were imported through Botswana.
But, it all came to an end and Gaborone took a step further by banning all imports from its roads. Zimbabwe and its people will in particular be hard hit be this decision.
Namibia’s efforts to facilitate the movement of goods in SADC through expanding its port to handle cargo such as vehicles bound for landlocked SADC countries would be in vain because of the intransigent behaviour of countries such as Botswana.
Namibia has not only expanded the Port of Walvis Bay, but has also given dry port facilities to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana for their goods passing through Namibia.
Who will call Botswana to order to respect regional protocols and act in a way that will benefit the whole region, whether it likes Zimbabwe or not.