Efficient transport systems are essential for moving goods and services, boosting trade revenue, linking people to economic opportunities and enabling access to healthcare and education.
Botswana’s transport sector is of great importance to the country’s economic transformation, and over the years significant investments have been made in transport- related infrastructure projects. Today a network of tarred roads links all of the country’s major population centres as well as many other settlements, while international airports and airfields provide easy access to tourist attractions as well as connections to the wider southern African region.
The country’s central position in southern Africa allows it to serve as a link between South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and eastern Africa. There is an emphasis on developing corridors that facilitate regional trade and integration between Botswana and its neighbours, and the recently opened Kazungula Bridge is expected to boost cross-border traffic and increase railway freight volumes.
Growth in the Transport and Communications sector was 5.9 percent in the year to September 2019, slightly higher than the 5.6 percent growth recorded in 2018, driven by positive growth in most subsectors. The road transport subsector grew by 5.1 percent in real terms, while the air transport subsector expanded by 6.0 percent. Transport and Communications is expected to contract by 2.5 percent in 2020 as a result of Covid-19. Growth- promoting initiatives under the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) include a substantial budget provision for major transport infrastructure projects in 2021/22.
The Botswana Integrated Transport Project (BITP), which runs until the end of 2021, has the objective of enhancing the efficiency of the transport system by building modern business management capacity and improving the strategic planning aspects of inter-regional and critical transport infrastructure. Co-financed by the World Bank and the OPEC Fund for International Development, the project’s components include: capacity building, institutional strengthening and training; road sector investment; and urban roads infrastructure investment. Progress on the BITP slowed during 2020, largely due to the national lockdowns imposed in response to the pandemic. The pace needs to increase in order to complete all activities before the closing date of 31 December 2021.
The continued development and maintenance of Botswana’s road network is pivotal to socioeconomic progress as it creates networks for the movement of goods, services and people, both domestically and regionally. The country’s location in the heart of southern Africa underlines the importance of access to regional networks linking to harbours in Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. Among the trunk roads completed over the past few decades are major road loops such as the Trans- Kgalagadi highway linking Botswana and Namibia, and the A1 highway connecting Botswana with its neighbours to the north and south.
Botswana’s roads are the principal means of transport for the majority of passengers and goods. Roads are managed and maintained by the central government and local authorities, with the latter in charge of access roads that are less than 10 kilometres in length as well as all internal roads. Road development projects are ongoing across the country, with Government continuing to reserve maintenance works for 100 percent citizen-owned companies.
A network of bituminised roads extends along the more populated eastern side of the country, linking Botswana with South Africa to the south, Zambia and Zimbabwe to the north, and Namibia to the west. The remote western areas were made considerably more accessible with the construction of the Trans-Kgalagadi highway, which subsequently brought tourist attractions and game reserves in closer reach and shortened travelling times in the region, cutting the route between Gauteng and Windhoek by approximately 400 kilometres.
The network of bitumen and gravel roads covered more than 20 000 kilometres and was worth approximately P50 billion.
According to the latest figures from Statistics Botswana, as at 2018 the total road network in Botswana measured 31 761.9 kilometres, of which 18 507 kilometres (58.3 percent) was under the care of central government while
13 239.7 kilometres (41.7 percent) was maintained by local authorities. The majority of roads are gravel (34.7 percent), followed by bitumen (30.8 percent), earth (17.6 percent) and sand/track (16.6 percent).
The Ghanzi-Sehitwa road completed a bitumen- surfaced ring road round the country. By linking remote settlements to primary roads, it managed to integrate rural communities with the rest of the country and thus improve socioeconomic development. The ring road also offers a comfortable means of exploring Botswana’s many tourist areas and provides alternative and cheaper access routes to Angola and other countries to the north.
Government remains committed to ensuring that the country’s public highway network is reliable, safe and secure by providing adequate maintenance, both routine and periodic. This is undertaken with the involvement of the private sector (citizen contractors in particular), with preference given to people living with disabilities, women and the youth.
Construction of roads is overseen by the Roads Department, with the emphasis of development programmes on bitumen road improvements through upgrading trunk roads in urban areas, as well as focusing on rural roads and bridge construction projects. Private sector consultants and contractors implement all central government projects, including new road and bridge construction works. In addition, they carry out over half the routine maintenance projects.
Connecting Botswana with Central Africa and the wider region is a priority. The Kazungula Bridge project, comprising a 923-metre long road and rail bridge linking Botswana and Zambia over the Zambezi River, has been completed. Undertaken in collaboration with the Republic of Zambia, the bridge will reduce transit times, improve the efficiency of transit traffic at the Kazungula border, and facilitate regional integration and connectivity along the North-South Corridor. This corridor is the busiest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, linking landlocked countries to the port of Durban, the regional hub for exports and imports. In addition, an increase in freight transport is anticipated; not only due to the completion of the Kazungula Bridge, but also the coming into effect of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement in January 2021.
Two major bridges are being built in the tourist areas of Ngamiland and Chobe districts, and will link into a number of major road projects currently underway. As at November 2020, construction was ongoing on the following roads: Francistown–Nata–Maun–Sehitwa-Mohembo, some sections of the Nata-Kazungula road, and the Palapye- Martin’s Drift road.
Construction on the Mohembo Bridge over the Okavango River is scheduled for completion by August 2021, and will help to expand tourism activities in the area. Nearly 500 Batswana have been employed on this project, which is fully funded by the Government of Botswana. Other ongoing road projects include: Charleshill–Ncojane; Gaborone– Boatle; Dibete–Mookane–Machaneng; Mabeleapodi– Tshimoyapula–Serule and Mosu–Thalamabele.
Progress on the New Greater Gaborone Traffic Signalling System Modernisation and Provision of a Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) Centre was around 30 percent complete by November 2020, with 31 out of 129 intersections having been commissioned. Construction of the three interchanges along ‘Western Bypass’ road (KT Motsete Drive), which started in December 2019, is ongoing. Co- funded by the Botswana Government, World Bank and OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), these projects aim to ease traffic congestion and improve road safety as well as the level of road user satisfaction.
Botswana’s central position in the southern African region makes its road networks vital to the transit of goods between South Africa and other SADC countries.
The roads earmarked for construction under the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan are to be developed on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis. As such, expressions of interest to build, finance and operate the Nata–Maun road, dualling of the A1, and the Gaborone Eastern bypass, will be issued during the 2021/22 financial year. Other road projects to be implemented in the coming financial year comprise the Francistown–Nata, Maun– Mohembo, Palapye–Martin’s Drift and Mmathethe–Bray roads.
Air transport is essential to Botswana because of its land-locked status, vast geographical area, scattered settlements, distance from most of the world’s industrial centres and remoteness of many of its tourist attractions. The air transport subsector is also important to Botswana’s business landscape, given the key role it plays in facilitating economic diversification. The liberalised air transport environment and Open Skies Policy have seen Botswana negotiate an increasing number of bilateral air service agreements.
While the aviation subsector plays a strategic role in economic growth, the restrictions on travel brought about by the Coronavirus mean that the subsector has not performed as well as usual. The focus at present is the further development of aviation infrastructure to prepare for the expected upturn in international travel.
Formerly the Department of Civil Aviation, the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) is mandated to promote the safe, secure, regular and efficient use and development of civil aviation in Botswana. It aims to be responsive to the dynamics of the aviation industry, social and economic development, and the need to promote trade and tourism. CAAB is responsible for the regulation of air transport, the provision of air navigation and air traffic services, and the operation and development of airports in Botswana. Budget subventions to CAAB cater for the replacement and maintenance of strategic assets.
The Civil Aviation Act of 2011 gives CAAB powers to issue licences for air transport services to one or more Botswana operators. Furthermore, it gives the Authority powers to set and maintain safety standards related to personnel, aircraft, aerodromes and air navigation services which meet international standards under the Chicago Convention.
The Aviation Security Act seeks to provide for the protection and security of aircraft, aerodromes, air navigation installations and persons or property on board. It ensures that the country’s legislation in the field of aviation security complies with international standards and recommended practices.
Following the introduction of long-haul flights into Botswana, including carriers like Qatar and Ethiopian airlines, and regional operators such as Namib Air, SA Express and SA Airlink, an urgent review of Botswana’s aviation and airspace safety and security, as well as disaster preparedness, is required. Emirates Airlines has also expressed interest in adding Botswana to their route. It is expected that a tender will be awarded in May 2021 to improve surveillance coverage of domestic airspace.
Botswana has six international airports, 19 well-maintained airfields in major villages throughout the country, and 52 private airfields catering mainly for tourists. A major improvement programme has been undertaken at the country’s main airports at a cost of over a billion pula.
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA), Botswana’s main airport, is situated 11 kilometres north of the capital Gaborone. SSKIA handles around half of the total international aircraft movements in the country. The CAAB’s Land Use Master Plan envisages an ‘airport city’ model for SSKIA, including hotels, shopping centres and recreational facilities. The development of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at SSKIA has begun with the construction of the 1.8-kilometre three-lane Boulevard One road, which is expected to be completed in May 2021.
Maun International Airport officially opened in 1996 and is regarded as one of the busiest airports in southern Africa. Most of the air traffic into and out of Maun consists of light aircraft which fly to and from the Okavango Delta. An average of six light aircraft flights are generated at Maun from the arrival of every scheduled aircraft at the airport, thus making for a busy runway.
The P120.7 million Maun Airport Terminal Renovation project started in April 2019. This involved the construction of new domestic and international arrival halls, which were handed over to CAAB in July 2020, with the balance of refurbishment completed by the end of the year. The renovated airport allows for a greater number of check-in counters, expanded public concourse, provision of meet and greet areas, separation of domestic and international passengers for security screening, space for refreshment vendors, and expanded international and domestic baggage areas, among others.
Opened in 1993, Kasane Airport is located near the famous Chobe Game Park and is only a short drive away from Victoria Falls. Following the upgrading of the runway and construction of a new apron to accommodate large aircraft, work on a brand new terminal building was completed in 2017, followed by the refurbishment of the old terminal building in 2018. These improvements cater for the future growth of the airport and raise its capacity to handle more international flights.
There are also airports located at Francistown, Selebi- Phikwe and Ghanzi, with the construction of Limpopo Valley airfield in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve having opened up the area to tourist traffic.
In October 2019, Francistown International Airport was renamed the PG Matante International Airport, recognising this pioneer of Botswana’s independence for his immense contribution to the socioeconomic and
political development of the nation.
Air Botswana (AB) was established as a parastatal under the then Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications through the Air Botswana Act of 1988 for the provision, development, operation and management of air transport services in Botswana. The Act gave AB exclusive rights to operate scheduled services on both domestic and international routes, and also provided for the airline to conduct its operations along commercial lines.
For the past several years the airline’s focus has been on returning to profitability. This period has seen a number of attempts at privatisation, and AB has received financial assistance from Government to procure additional aircraft. The current fleet comprises two twin-engine turboprop ATR 72 aircraft and one Embraer ERJ-170 jet airliner.
With the privatisation agenda still a priority, the aim is to enhance the airline’s value and position it as a going concern to potential investors. In August 2020, the Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency (PEEPA) submitted recommendations on the review of Air Botswana’s operating model for consideration by the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, only domestic flights were allowed between March and November 2020. Air Botswana resumed international passenger flights between Gaborone and Johannesburg in November 2020, with services from SSKIA to Cape Town, Harare and Lusaka recommencing the following month. During December 2020, the departure of international flights from Maun, Francistown and Kasane also reopened.
Established in 1987, Botswana Railways (BR) forms a crucial link in the railway systems of the southern African region. Along with South Africa’s Spoornet to the south and National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) to the north, it provides a connection to Namibia and Eswatini and an unbroken rail link to Zambia, the DRC, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi.
Botswana’s original railway line was laid in the late 19th century as part of Cecil Rhodes’s dream of a Cape-to-Cairo railway track. Today the route length of railways comprises almost 900 kilometres of single line laid to Cape gauge (1 067mm), and includes 641 kilometres of main line between Ramatlabama in the south and Vakaranga in the north, as well as 280 kilometres of branch lines to various mining concerns.
BR has been operating under difficult conditions for more than a decade as a result of stiff competition, not only from the road transport sector but also from other railways in the region. BR freight services currently target bulk commodities such as copper, soda ash and salt, coal and fuel.
In 2019, BR experienced a P58 million loss on its railway operations. However, this loss was mitigated by dividends from other non-core businesses, translating into an overall loss of P18 million. The passenger rail service between Lobatse and Francistown, which has been running at a loss, has been suspended.
BR’s main financial challenges include the high cost of maintenance due to old rail infrastructure and antiquated
The construction of a 120-kilometre, 1067mm-gauge freight line between the coalfields of Mmamabula in Botswana and Lephalale in Limpopo, South Africa, is on the cards. The line will connect with Transnet’s heavy haul lines and cut approximately 500 kilometres out of the current rail route to South Africa’s ports. The key objective of the project, which has a cost estimated at some US $300 million, is to establish a higher capacity coal export line to the coast. This would significantly reduce logistics costs and allow Botswana’s coal producers to compete in the international seaborne thermal coal market.
The development of a 369-kilometre freight line from Mosetse in Botswana to Zambia via the Kazungula Bridge is also in the spotlight. It will help to link Botswana to other countries in the region and facilitate cross border trade. The project has a US $800 million price tag and is expected to take from six to seven years to implement. Feasibility studies for Mosetse–Kazungula as well as Mmamabula– Lephalale rail projects are expected to be completed by September 2021.
Government is to issue requests in the 2021/22 financial year for expressions of interest to build, finance and operate the Mmamabula–Lephalale and Mosetse–Kazungula railway projects on a PPP basis.
BR has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Namibia’s national railway, TransNamib, in respect of the US $9.5 billion Trans-Kalahari Railway (TKR) project, a high-speed regional railway line connecting Walvis Bay, Windhoek, Gaborone and Pretoria. It is one of two such projects selected as part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and will provide a rail link between Botswana’s north-south main line and the Namibian rail network, thus improving Botswana’s access to Atlantic-coast ports. The project is a multi-sectoral initiative designed to stimulate much-needed industrial value chain development in key growth nodes along the Trans-Kalahari Corridor. Following a detailed feasibility, design and engineering study, it is envisaged that a transaction advisor will be appointed in 2022. Construction is expected to begin in 2023.
The Chongoene Development Corridor Project (CDC) involves the phased construction of deep-water seaport on the coastline of Gaza Province in Mozambique, as well as a Cape gauge railway line, designed to heavy haul standards, which will link the proposed new port with the existing national line as well as other regional rail networks via Zimbabwe. The CDC project’s objective is to provide world-class transportation infrastructure backbone in order to attract major private sector investment. The aim is to transform the resource-rich Limpopo River Valley, which cuts across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana, into an internationally competitive hub for industry and services, building on the huge potential of its agribusiness and fisheries, as well as human, industrial, mining, tourism and water resources.
The Port Techobanine Inter-regional Heavy Haul Railway project aims to create an international trade route linking Botswana (via Francistown), Zimbabwe (via Bulawayo) and Mozambique (via the port of Techobanine) to the eastern markets. An MoU for the development of the railway line has been signed by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and work is underway to develop timelines to facilitate implementation of the project. The railway line will be some 2 000 kilometres in length and be able to carry up to 12 million tonnes of goods per year.
Botswana Railways has four dry ports, with container terminals located in Gaborone (Gabcon), Francistown (Francon), Palapye (Palcon) and, most recently, Walvis Bay Dry port in Namibia (Sea Rail). Established with the aim of increasing BR’s share of traffic, these dry ports facilities have reduced the turnaround time and costs of containerised cargo deliveries, giving locally based importers and exporters a safe, faster and cheaper alternative to road transport. The existing dry ports in Gaborone, Francistown and Palapye are to be upgraded, and a new dry port will be established in Kasane.
Gabcon, which is a joint venture between BR and Transnet, is an extension of the sea port and therefore receives/ handles all containerised cargo destined to Botswana and the SADC region via sea and rail. This is the most cost effective, safe and environmentally friendly way to transport goods.
Francon is wholly owned by BR and is strategically located as a northern hub offering convenience for trans-shipping traffic from rail to road or vice versa. Future plans for Francon are to enable it to act as a hub for consolidating road-based traffic from destinations north of Botswana.
BR officially opened the Walvis Bay Dry Port at the beginning of 2015. Offering a highly competitive alternative to the ports of Durban and Cape Town, as well as a shorter route to Europe and the Americas, the dry port reduces transport costs and renders Botswana’s exports more competitive in global markets. The port is being run by BR-subsidiary Sea Rail, which leases the facility from Namport. It offers container handling, vehicle handling and warehousing.
rolling stock. Approximately 80 percent of revenue arises from freight, in particular from the movement of goods into South Africa. A great deal of traffic was lost in 2018 and 2019 because Transnet in South Africa was upgrading the line from Mafikeng to Krugersdorp.
The Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) has identified Francistown as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for the Transportation, Logistics and Mining Hub. BR has earmarked a number of projects for Francistown, including a cargo consolidation hub for the storage and transportation of cargo, and an overhaul workshop.
In July 2020, BR exported the first coal consignment from Minergy’s Masama coal mine. The 2 650-tonne coal shipment was initially transported 60 kilometres by road from the mine in Mmamabula to the the Tshele Hills rail siding in southern Botswana, which has been upgraded to support the loading of coal onto freight trains. It consisted of 50 high-sided BHS wagons, each carrying around 53 tonnes, and is the first of three consignments destined for delivery to a South African cement manufacturer.