China has recently announced it will rehabilitate the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, opening thus new development perspectives for the entire region.
China will inject U.S. $ 376 million in the rehabilitation of the 1,860 km of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tazara) which connects the port of Dar es Salaam to the Zambian city of Kapiri-Mposhi, announced participants to a tripartite meeting which took place by mid-May in the Tanzanian capital. Such initiative is badly needed. Indeed, since its completion by China in 1976, decided by Presidents Mao Zedong of China, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia the Tazara or “Uhuru railway” meaning liberty railway in Swahili, has considerably deteriorated.
According to a technical evaluation carried out by engineers from the Third Railway Survey and Design Institute of China (TSDI), the line seriously damaged over 200 km. Moreover, the derailment risk is high on many trunks. Radio communications are no longer operational at night and electric signalization equipments have exceeded their life span.
Locomotives, wagons and coaches are also very old. On the financial front, the situation is critical with a debt of over $ 787 m. As a result, freight volume has sunk from 601,000 to 87,860 metric tonnes between 2006 and 2015, said a Tanzanian official during the last China Africa Forum which took place in Johannesburg in December 2015.
In front of this situation, the three countries decided not only to rehabilitate the railway but also to expand the project, with the construction of links and junctions with the original railway towards the new Tanzanian harbour of Bagamoyo, towards Malawi, Katanga, Rwanda and Burundi. Studies are ready, said Tazara’s chairman, Bruno Ching’Andu. The Tanzanian government is already working with China on another important project which is the construction of the Bagamoyo harbour and of its Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which will be connected by a 40 km rail link to the Tazara.
The SEZ infrastructures and the rehabilitation of the railway are part of a long-term project which was announced in 2006 by the former President Hu Jintao during a summit on sino-african cooperation which took place in Beijing, which envisaged the construction of five or six SEZ on the African continent. As shows the creation of companies in Ethiopia’s manufacturing sector, China is not only looking to extract minerals and other raw materials but also to evacuate them and transform them on the spot, when this offers a comparative advantage for its companies.
In Tazara’s case, China has shown its interest by expressing its wish to be part of the project management. The Chinese ambassador in Dar es Salaam, Liu Youquing declared that Tazara does not only represent a symbol of friendship between his country, Tanzania and Zambia, but also an important infrastructure that should not be allowed to disintegrate. According to the Dar es Salaam agreement, China will become the operator of the line and will acquire part of the capital, which will also be open to private partners.
The idea to relaunch Tazara is also justified by its African stakeholders because it is the only railway that would interconnect three economic blocks: the East African Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community.
Open to the Great Lakes
Tazara offers as well new perspectives for the exploitation of the Musongati nickel deposits by Burundi Mining Metallurgy corporation since the railway represents a sine qua non condition of the economic viability of the project. The China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) has already expressed interest in undertaking the project to connect Burundi and Rwanda to the Tazara.
When completed, the extension of the railway will allow a better evacuation of the tantalum, tin and tungsten by landlocked Burundi, Rwanda and the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Moreover, once rehabilitated, the railway will offer mining firms from the Katanguese and Zambian copperbelt an alternative corridor,which will enable them to stimulate competition with the rival ports in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. After all, Tazara’s initial purpose was to open up for Zambia which has no direct access to the sea an alternative corridor to the Southern railroad which made the country dependent from apartheid South Africa and white supremacist Rhodesia.
Yet, Tazara’s rehabilitation is only a first phase in opening up the Great Lakes and the Copperbelt regions. The next is the construction of the 494 km railway between the Isaka station on the Tazara line in Tanzania and the Rwandan capital, Kigali. One of the challenges of the rehabilitation is also to change the narrow Cape gauge of 1,067 mm width to the wider 1,435 mm standard gauge in the rest of Africa, says Permanent Secretary in Zambia’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, Misheck Lungu. Tazara’s rehabilitation and the related projects represent one of the elements of a much wider investment programme carried out at continental level by China to expand Africa’s railway infrastructures.
China is indeed projecting as well alongside with Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and South Sudan, the construction of new railway line between Mombassa and Bujumbura and Juba. The Eximbank of China is considering to finance the project up to U.S. $ 3.8 billion dollars while Kenya has expressed its intention to finance it up to $ 500 m. Discussions are ongoing with China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) to implement the project. Recently, another Chinese corporation, theChina Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation (CR20) completed the reconstruction of the Benguela railway between the Angolan port of Lobito and the Congolese border for a total of $ 1.8 billion, to pay namely for the reconstruction of bridges destroyed during the devil war. Last year, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation finalized the reconstruction of the 740 km, railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. (F.M.)