Windhoek –Zambian authorities are detaining 70 drivers and have impounded 200 Namibian trucks that were carrying timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The trucks have been impounded for about five months and this has so far cost the trucks owners about R100 million, according to the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), which is demanding the immediate release of the trucks.
The trucks were impounded because Zambian laws prohibits the harvesting of Mukula timber in the country.
The Mukula timber in the Namibian trucks was, however, harvested by businesses operating in the DRC with valid permits from the government of the DRC to do so.
The Namibian truckers were simply transporting goods from the suppliers to the clients and were never involved in the harvesting of the timber.
The trucks carried timber from the DRC with valid documentations which were inspected by Zambian customs officials and found to be valid and authentic.
The Zambian authorities even sealed the cargo at the Kasumbalesa border post between DRC and Zambia which under normal circumstances would be inspected again at the Sesheke-Katima Mulilo border post.
The Zambian authorities agreed that the drivers had valid and authentic documents at the border and that the trucks were carrying goods legally, but the same authorities still impounded trucks.
At the time of transporting the timber, Zambia had only banned the harvesting of the Mukula timber on their territory, but not the transportation if that timber came from a different country.
The trucks drivers’ situation has, however, been made difficult by the fact that Zambia, as of April 2017, passed a law that no timber is allowed to be transported in the country.
NCCI chief executive officer Tarah Shaanika said as a result of the impounding, the drivers have been living in deplorable and inhumane conditions in Zambia for the past five months, far away from their families.
“Their trucks have been stationary in Zambia without generating income and some of our members are at risk of losing their businesses all together,” he said.
NCCI said they have engaged the Namibian and Zambian authorities several times but to no avail.
This situation is likely to affect the relations between the two countries as well as result in a setback for regional integration as promoted by SADC.
The three countries have a corridor (Walvis Bay–Ndola–Lubumbashi corridor) developed to promote trade within the region and with the outside world. A lot of efforts were made to promote this transport corridor.
The corridor was signed into agreement by the three governments in 2010 and this enable it to increase the movements of goods along the corridor.
Shaanika said people must not forget that it’s Zambia and DRC who use this corridor more, compared to Namibia.
“Unfortunately, there were also more goods destined for Zambia and DRC from the Port of Walvis Bay in comparison with goods from Zambia and DRC to Namibia or to the outside world via the port of Walvis Bay.”
He added that one of the products identified to be transported as a return load from the DRC to the port of Walvis Bay was timber and the main market destination was China.
A number of trucks from various countries, primarily Namibia, Zambia, DRC, Tanzania and South Africa started taking timber from the DRC as a return load.
Shaanika said it was unfortunate and regrettable that the Zambian authorities decided to impound trucks for such a long time instead of impounding the products which they were trying to protect.
He added that the impounding of the trucks had harmed the Namibian economy severely, at a time the country’s economy was not doing well.
“There is clear evidence of the impact of the impounding of our trucks on the transport and logistics sector in Namibia. There is currently a lot of cargo that cannot be transported out of the port of Walvis Bay due to lack of trucks because so many of them are kept standing in Zambia.”
Zambian High Commissioner to Namibia Stella Libongani, could not be reached for comment.
But speaking to the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday, deputy commissioner Dorothy Nachilongo said this does not signify a political fight between the two countries and a solution would be found soon.