Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SOUTHERN AFRICA: New Zambezi Waterway Planned

Pilirani Semu-Banda -- BLANTYRE, May 15 (IPS)

Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique hope to navigate the mighty Zambezi river's waterways by 2009 as an alternative and cheap transport route for imports and exports from and to the three southern African countries.

Malawi has been working on wooing its two neighbours to work together to find funds to reopen the navigable Zambezi waterways to connect trade routes into Malawi's longest river, Shire. Zambia and Malawi are both landlocked.

These efforts may now be coming to fruition following the signing of a trilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) on April 25 2007.

Representatives of the Zimbabwean government, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) witnessed the signing ceremony.

In April 2005, the Malawi government submitted a concept paper on the project to the heads of state and governments of the implementation committee of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).

The paper pointed out that the Zambezi waterways were successfully used for transport explorers and missionaries to Malawi a century and a half ago.

‘‘As recently as 1970, a private firm called Mawtam Limited operated a barge service transporting molasses from Chiromo in Malawi to Chinde on the coast of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. This operation was disrupted by the war in Mozambique after the early 1970s,'' said the concept report.

Malawi hopes that when operational, the Shire-Zambezi Waterway will open up a route from the inland port of Nsanje in Malawi to the Indian Ocean port of Chinde in Mozambique, covering a distance of about 238 kilometres.

Malawi shares borders with Mozambique to the east, south and south-west; Zambia to the west and north-west; and Tanzania to the north and north-east.

At the moment, Malawi's traditional ports are Beira, which is located about 800 kilometres away, and Nacala, which is 900 kilometres away. The country also depends on the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, which is about 1,200 kilometres away.

Malawi's minister of transport, Henry Mussa, says as a landlocked country, transport costs for imports and exports constitute a high component in the pricing of goods and services. The high cost of transportation increases cost of production and therefore makes Malawian goods and services uncompetitive in the international market.
He also describes the Shire-Zambezi project as of ‘‘immense economic importance'' to the three countries and others in southern Africa and the Great Lakes Region.

‘‘Once completed, the Shire-Zambezi Waterway will enable medium sea-going vessels to use the waterway. It will therefore drastically reduce the transportation costs of imports and exports as it would provide direct and short waterway access to the Indian Ocean,'' says Mussa.

‘‘The low cost shall be realized through direct waterway link from Nsanje to Chinde on the Indian Ocean. The project will provide the cheapest mode which is also the shortest route to the nearest sea port. This will have an effect of substantially reducing the transportation costs of imports and exports for these countries,'' says Mussa.

The decrease in transport costs will make the exports of the concerned countries more competitive in the international market, thereby earning more foreign exchange. The project will directly contribute towards macroeconomic growth and the reduction of poverty.

In addition, he says, the project will make agricultural inputs affordable to the local people. Food production will therefore increase, which will enhance food security.

The project will involve the construction of a port at Nsanje in Malawi and expansion and modernization of the port of Chinde in Mozambique. The Shire-Zambezi waterway will be dredged and converted into a modern canal. New roads are planned from Malawi into Zambia, Rwanda and Burundi.

The planned Chiromo rail and road bridge in Malawi will be built and the railway line from Nsanje through Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mchinji to Chipata on the Zambian border will be upgraded. Barges will be provided on Lake Malawi to serve people in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Malawi has since started constructing the waterway canal in Nsanje, which is on the southern border with Mozambique.

Zambian high commissioner to Malawi Joshua Simuyandi, who signed the MOU on behalf of his government, says his country has already started construction of a railway line to link Zambia to the Nsanje Port on the Shire River in Malawi.

However, everything has not been sorted out yet. Mozambique's transport and communications minister Antonio Munguambe says his government cannot commit itself before a conclusive feasibility study has been done.

‘‘We would like, on behalf of the government of the Republic of Mozambique, to express our availability to co-operate within our limited capacity to ensure the feasibility study takes place as soon as possible to allow us to charter the next steps,'' says Munguambe.

He says his government signed the MOU to help facilitate the mobilization of resources to conduct the feasibility study. There is a need to know the project's sustainability and to consider its financial, geographical and social aspects to see whether it will be beneficial to the people of the concerned countries.

Commenting on the stand of the Mozambican government, Malawian minister of transport Mussa says Comesa has contributed 500,000 US dollars towards the feasibility study. Comesa secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya confirmed the funding, which he said will come from the European Development Fund and will be used for a hydro-graphic survey.

Comesa estimates that Malawi's transportation costs alone take up 60 percent of the value of the country's exports and that the country spends a total of 250 million US dollars annually on transport costs for imports and exports.

The regional body also indicates that the Shire-Zambezi waterway route would enable Mozambique, Zambia and other countries to save money.