At first it was just a rumour that Presidents in Southern and Central Africa Africa are discussing to re-open a route that was used by explorers in discovering internal Africa. Now it has happened. Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia recently signed a memorandum of understanding to pave way for the feasibility study of the Shire-Zambezi Water Way.
Malawi Minister of Transport Henry Mussa signed on behalf of Malawi while his Mozambican counterpart signed on behalf of his country. The Zambian Envoy to Malawi Joshua Mweemba signed on behalf of Zambia. All the three officials pledged support from their governments as the route would reduce the costs in importing and exporting goods and services by 60 percent.
After signing of the memorandum, Director of Transport and Planning in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works in Malawi, Victor Lungu, said an international firm will be engaged to carry out the hydrographic study to, among others, assess the depth of the two rivers.
According to the speech of President of Malawi, Dr. Bingu Wa Mutharika, at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in 2005, Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe stand to benefit from the route. The route would cost almost $6 billion to construct. Sindiso Ngwenya, Common Market for Easten and Southern Africa (COMESA)Secretary General, said earlier this year his organisation would fund half a million US dollars for the hydrographic study.
Malawi mostly uses the Tanzanian route. Goods have to travel 1,200 kilometres. The planned new route is only 238 kilometres.
Northeastern Mozambique, which is near Malawi, would no longer be land locked. Equally, Eastern Zambia will be opened up. Goods are now transported from South Africa or Tanzania to Lusaka, the Capital city of Zambia. From there, some of the goods are then transported to Eastern Zambia.
The 2005 Malawi Transport Costs Study indicates that Malawi spends 250 million US dollars every year to export its goods as well as to receive goods from other countries. According to a document that was sent to NEPAD, the project will involve, among others, construction and rehabilitation of the road from Malawi to Rwanda and Burundi, dredging and conversion of the Shire-Zambezi waterway into a model canal, upgrading and modernisation of Nsanje port in Malawi and Chinde Port in Mozambique as well as rehabilitation of the road from Malawi to Zambia.
The route will make goods and services more competitive on the international market, as they will be cheaper, according to investment experts. "The route will make agricultural goods affordable to farmers because of cheap prices .This will mean farmers will save a lot of money on inputs," said Dr. Chinkhuntha, an irrigation farmer who owns a farm in Central Malawi that has been visited by many tourists.
The cost of transportation increases the cost of production and makes goods in the sub region uncompetitive on the international market.
The Shire-Zambezi Water Way will be financed by governments who will participate in the project, the donor community and some companies in the private sector. Sources from Ministry of Transport and Public Works in Malawi indicate that New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) also has shown willingness to fund the project. The project will foster regional integration in line with NEPAD objectives.
Malawi Government has already started construction of quays/berths at Nsanje Port. The work started in 2005. Already investors from many countries have acquired land at the port in readiness for it to being busy in a few years to come.
The route was used by Malawi and Mozambique in the 1970s. Mawtam Limited operated a barge service transporting molasses from Chilomo in Malawi to Chinde on the coast of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Because of the civil war in Mozambique, this route was stopped.
According to the Government of Malawi, Glens Limited organised a survey by boat of the Lower Shire and Zambezi Rivers. The survey found the rivers still navigable all the way to the Indian Ocean port of Chinde .
Regional bodies like SADC and COMESA have hailed the positive response from the region saying the route will promote regional intergration through business and cultural links. They also say the project will enhance economic independence as money on transport will be saved in Rwanda, Burundi,Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.
* By Muyanga Ziba / Torsdag 1. juli 2010