I must say my visit to Namibia was memorable far beyond my
expectations, beginning even from the flight on Air Namibia from
Zambia. Far out above the Okavango Delta one of the four engines of
our World War II vintage DC-6 simply stopped operating-- the pilot
assured us we could continue with as few as two. We landed safely at
Eros Airport in Windhoek.
The transportation lines in Africa generally lead from the coasts to
Europe. But from Walvis Bay on the Atlantic coast to Maputo on the
Indian, there are technically speaking all the necessary ingredients
for a major internal corridor. Another corridor leads from Walvis
Bay north through the Caprivi Strip, forking finally in Zambia and
Zimbabwe. The port at Walvis Bay has excess capacity for both
containers and bulk cargo. The road through the Kalahari desert in
Botswana has recently been completed, and the small remaining strip
of the northern road is also under construction.
Yet goods and services move only slowly along these routes.
Information and communication technologies are proposed as a
solution, but some have their doubts.
Infrastructure is a problem. For some 800 kilometers across the
Kalahari there are no services-- no petrol stations, no restaurants,
no telephones. Motorists in the desert are a collegial bunch,
however, and will stop to assist any driver with a breakdown. But
freight companies are hoping cellular telephone providers will soon
erect towers along the route.
But it is the border post between Nambia and Botswana that is of
greater concern to shippers. First, it is only open during daylight
hours, while drivers would prefer to travel at night. Then, delays
at the border can last hours or even days, particularly if there is a
problem with forms -- and there frequently are paperwork problems.
To speed things along, Namibia has installed ASYCUDA, an integrated
data network for customs operations (see
http://www.comesa.int/trade/tradasba.htm). Automation means that
cargo can more efficiently be assessed and tracked from departure in
Walvis Bay to the Botswana border. Paperwork problems are less
Namibians suggest that the Botswana side is problematic, however.
ASYCUDA is not available on that side of the border, though
installation is reportedly planned for the future. Ideally, TCP/IP
links would connect even the Botswana side to their customs
headquarters in Gaborone, and a further link between Gaborone and
Windhoek would allow customs documents to be shared between
countries. The present procedure is to print out the Namibian
document and then key it in manually on the Botswana side.
The ASYCUDA software (especially the pending upgrade) can accomodate
complete regional integration, and certainly the freight companies
seem eager for this to happen. But technical feasibility is rarely
the limiting constraint in this business.
One company related an amusing story. Goods are collected at the
port in Walvis Bay and shipped along the longer southern route
through South Africa to Johannesburg where they are loaded on planes
and exported to Europe -- air freight capacity at Windhoek is
inadequate for this purpose, hence the extra link through
Johannesburg. Ideally a vehicle would be inspected and sealed by
customs in Walvis Bay, the seal would again be inspected in
Johannesburg, and the cargo would then be loaded immediately onto a
plane without opening the container.
In practice, Namibian customs officials are reportedly transported
weekly at freight company expense to Johannesburg simply to inspect
the seals on the containers. It seems cooperation among South
African and Namibian customs officials is not as one would expect in
a customs union.
Shipping costs increase. Exports are fewer. Jobs are lost-- good
jobs that I'm sure both South Africans and Namibians would appreciate
In principle a telecommunications link between Walvis Bay and
Johannesburg should solve this problem. There already is such a
link. Freight companies in the region are now focusing attention on
basic electronic mail among their members in order to coordinate
their arguments to governments to make things right.
They say you can lead a horse to water, yet no matter how thirsty,
you cannot force it to drink if for some strange reason it decides
not to do so. Sometimes horses just have their own ideas, and unless
we speak their language, we'll never know what those ideas are.
Many have written me about other important issues in Nambia. Let me
assure you I had a delightful time. Eberhard and I had a pleasant
breakfast in Walvis Bay while his two young boys tested all the
equipment in the hotel lobby. We discussed the importance of
regional networking among African Internet service providers and
top-level domain administrators so that Africa can take its proper
seat at the table where the future of the Internet is now being
discussed. We also discussed the status of public hospitals in
Namibia, seals and flamingoes, and the movement of sand dunes in the
great Namib desert. Eberhard's eldest son was of great assistance in
rolling my bag to the check-in counter at the airport for my flight
to Johannesburg and Mbabane.
Jeff @ Gaborone (en route today through Johannesburg to Nairobi, and
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1111 North 19th Street Suite 210
Arlington, VA 22209 USA
Tel 1-703-235-5415 Fax 1-703-235-3805