TAZARA Tops Tanzania's 'Utmost Priority List'
By Alvar Mwakyusa
Revitalisation of the once-thriving Tanzania-Zambia Railway line (TAZARA) is of utmost priority to the government of Tanzania given the fact that despite its huge potential, the railroad has been underperforming due to a number of reasons.
The Chief Secretary, Ambassador John Kijazi, made the commitment on Monday, stressing that the government of Tanzania believes challenges facing the 1,860-kilometres railway line running from the Dar es Salaam Port in Tanzania to Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia, can be addressed.
"Tazara is a priority project under Sino-Tanzania cooperation. Tanzania is eager to improve efficiency of the project with our partners," Ambassador Kijazi said while officiating at the opening of the technical working group on rehabilitation and sustainable development of Tazara.
He added: "We are equally confident that our colleagues from Zambia are as well anxious to see the revitalised TAZARA since its underperformance has inhibited the rate of commodities to and from Zambia and other neighbouring land-linked countries."
The three-day high-level meeting draws experts from China, Tanzania and Zambia. They are expected to discuss and propose a way forward on recommendations and advice of the Third Railway Survey of Design Institute (TSDI) on improvement of the landmark project.
TAZARA is the only regional rail project well-positioned to provide key linking role in the proposed EAC-COMESA-SADC Free Trade Area with a considerable market of more than 600 million people.
The chief secretary noted with concerns that despite increased volumes of throughput cargo at the Dar es Salaam Port, the volume of cargo transported by TAZARA has continued to drop.
"The throughput cargo at Dar port increased from six million metric tonnes in 2006 to about 15 million metric tonnes in 2015 and yet the share of TAZARA has decreased from 601,229 metric tonnes in fiscal year 2005/2006 to just 87,860 tonnes in 2014/2015.
"I am also told that despite the surge in copper production in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), traffic levels recorded through the railroad have dropped significantly. This poor performance trend has to change," Ambassador Kijazi remarked.
"The government has taken deliberate measures to improve efficiency at the Dar es Salaam Port, which is currently the main gateway for TAZARA. "On the other hand, the governments of China and Tanzania are working on another major project that will involve construction of the Bagamoyo Port and its associated Special Economic Zone (SEZ)," he explained.
The chief secretary hinted that plans were LSO underway to construct a 40-km railway line to link the Bagamoyo SEZ with TAZARA network at Pugu. The move will ensure adequate availability of cargo for the latter.
What is more, he pointed to the fact that the railroad passes through the project area of the envisaged Mkulazi Integrated Agriculture and Processing Park in Morogoro. "This project is in the pipeline and is expected to feature large-scale agricultural production, processing and machinery assembling. All these projects reinforce the relevance of efficient TAZARA," he explained.
At the same occasion, the Deputy Director of China's Ministry of Commerce, Mr Liu Junfeng, pointed to the fact that the project played a significant role in improving social-economic status of Tanzania and Zambia.
"As we mark 40 years after the project became operational, we hope respective parties will come with ideas for activation of TAZARA by addressing existing problems," Mr Junfeng, who is leading the Chinese delegation, remarked.
For his part, Zambia's Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Roland Msiska, was confident that revamping the railroad will significantly reduce the cost of doing business and thus resulting into increased competitiveness in the region.
"It costs about five cents per tonne per kilometre to transport goods on railway network whereas the same volume of cargo attracts more than 12 cents," Dr Msiska, who is leading the Zambia delegation, noted.
The railroad was built by the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority from 1970 to 1975 as a turnkey project financed and supported by China. At the time of its completion, two years ahead of schedule, the TAZARA was the single longest railway in sub-Saharan Africa and was the largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China.