Zambia, Malawi moving together in development

By Emmanuel Banda (ZANIS)
Despite being endowed with abundant natural resources, Africa has continued to be looked down upon as a poor Continent.

The assertion that Africa is indeed a poor Continent arises from the fact that its inhabitants are living in poverty – abject poverty for that matter!

What is also known about Africa is that its countries were all at one point or another, politically and economically colonized by the Western World. However, the good news about this continent is that all its States consequently liberated themselves from colonial rule.

In any case, political independence is one thing and economic independence is yet another.

As African countries helped one another in the freedom struggle from colonialism, their leaders must continue working together in an effort to unite Africa as a single, solid economy which should be less dependent on outside handouts.

This is the more reason Africa is divided into small economic groupings other than the umbrella African Union (AU) alone. Such small, economic groupings as the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are a right pointer for Africa towards continental economic emancipation.

But the stepping stone towards this course should be set by individual states through conducive economic policies. Some countries have already started taking this initiative with assistance from regional, international, global groupings and financial institutions of goodwill.

Both Zambia and Malawi belong to COMESA and SADC among other regional bodies. The two countries, which share a common economic disadvantage of being landlocked, have also taken an initiative towards economic freedom.

In this regard, on August 27, 2010, Zambia added value to its transport sector by launching the long awaited Chipata/Mchinji railway line.

This railway project, which was initiated in the late 1970s by the then Presidents of Zambia and Malawi – Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Dr Kamuzu Banda respectively – was meant to provide a shorter route to the port of Nacala in Mozambique through which most of Zambia’s and Malawi’s imports and exports pass.

The line was, and still is an alternative route besides the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA). In other words, the project was meant to facilitate landlocked Zambia access its imports and exports to the eastern coast of the African continent through the Port of Nacala .

On this ceremonial day, President Rupiah Banda invited his Malawian and Mozambican counterparts, Professor Bingu wa Mutharika and Armando Guebuza respectively.

In his speech at this joyous occasion, President Banda stated clearly what the railway line between Chipata and Mchinji meant for him and said, “the commissioning of the railway line gives me renewed hope and determination that Zambia , Malawi and Mozambique can improve the wellbeing of their people through joint projects. This equally shows how the railway line would not only enhance employment but also reduce poverty among many people of the SADC and COMESA member states through lower taxes on goods entering and exiting our countries.”

The local business community in Chipata, where the terminus of the project is, views the benefit of the railway line with an economic eye.

“The cost of transporting fertilizer to Chipata in Zambia from the port of Nacala in Mozambique through Mchinji in Malawi will reduce by about US $30 per tonne (about K140,000 per tonne),” says Ziaudin Daya, a local businessman and agent for the Central East African Railways (CEAR), a Malawian-based company running trains on the newly commissioned railway line.

This means that imported goods, including agro inputs will be cheaper, especially for small-scale farmers who are the majority. The move would translate to more production of maize and other crops.

It is envisaged that the government and, indeed the private sector, would still use the same railway line to easily and cheaply export their produce to the outside world at a faster rate.

Other than the agro inputs and agro produce, says Daya, the railway would also be used to transport large quantities of commercial goods like cement and copper in due course at drastically lower tax charges. The benefits are expected to trickle down to the common man who would buy and sell goods at affordable prices.

The Malawian President, Professor Wa Mutharika also stated that the initiative would enhance the transport capacity of his country, Malawi, and Mozambique while contributing significantly to the reduction of transport costs for imports and exports.

He further observed that as a result of the launch of the railway line, the continent would achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) of the United Nations adding that Better transportation will also enhance agricultural production and food security in Africa .

With this development, President Wa Mutharika said his government would ensure that the 810 km railway line in Malawi is fully rehabilitated and upgraded to provide the connectivity to the port of Nacala so that the people of Malawi and Zambia benefit from the rail project through cheaper imports of agricultural inputs and other basic necessities as well as exports of agricultural commodities, mineral products and manufactured goods.

“This is an important and historic milestone in the development of transport infrastructure between our two countries. It is also the realization of the COMESA/SADC programmes for strengthening regional economic integration,” he emphasized, adding that the project was proof enough that the leaders were together in their development efforts.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the Mozambican government through the Minister of Communication and Transport, Paulo Zukula. Other than recognizing the project as a positive transport infrastructural development for the countries of Zambia , Malawi and Mozambique and the SADC region in general, Mr Zukula also saw it as a milestone towards the fight against poverty and called for co-operation among the three countries so that their dreams could come true in unison.

“The fight against poverty is serious one as it has no borders. Hunger and thirst can wait, but poverty must go now,” he charged and reiterated that the rail project would accelerate regional integration.

The Mozambican Minister of Communication and Transport urged the private sector to partner with the governments so that the three countries would successfully complement one another and share what is good for them.

On October 23, 2010, President Wa Mutharika also added value to this important sector; when commissioned a more-than US $6 billion Nsanje World Inland Port on the Shire River .

The Nsanje World Inland Port has become the shortest outlet for goods imported and exported outside Malawi and Zambia as the two countries will no longer use the Nacala port in Mozambique which is hundreds of kilometers away. Secondly, and still better enough for Malawi and Zambia , the port is on the railway that joins the Chipata/Mchinji rail project which was opened earlier on in Chipata.

According to Professor Wa Mutharika, his dream of constructing the port was hatched some five years ago when, after working as Secretary General for SADC, he realized that Malawi had the highest import and export tax among the regional member states. “It is this high tax we suffered that motivated me to construct this port,” he said.

His dream was compounded from information he got from someone in the United Kingdom . “We were in the under-ground train when this man asked me how Port Herald was doing. I told him I did not know the port he was talking about until he said he meant the port on the Shire River in Nsanje district,” he said.

“I told him there was no port there and he was sad and told me that there was Port Herald in Nsanje district on the Shire River which was more economical for Malawi than Nacala. That is when I realized that there was a God made natural resource of economic value for us,” he said.

After gathering more information Professor Wa Mutharika realized that the port, which was used and abandoned several decades ago, could be revamped. However, the President was not sure whether the river was still deep enough and navigable.

President Wa Mutharika explained that other interested organizations and private partners supported his idea of constructing the Nsanje World Inland Port. However, there were a lot of critics who thought that the Malawian President was only seeking political mileage when he broke the news that he intended to construct the port in an area where they thought was only suitable for rice cultivation as it was flooded during the rainy season.

With the help of the private sector and international organizations, like the World Bank, European Union, the Africa Development Bank and the Japanese government to mention a few, the dream came true for Prof Wa Mutharika.

An interested businessman, Mahesh Patel, set the pace by using his resources to survey the river from Nsanje Boma to the Indian Ocean for navigability. It was after receiving the report that the contractor, Antonio Mota, assured the President that his company, Mota Angel Construction Group, was going to succeed in constructing the port after being in port construction and port running business for more than 64 years.

According to President Wa Mutharika, the opening of the port was just the first phase of his dream.

He said, “In the next year we shall have warehouses, hotels, banks, modern restaurants, an international airport and tourist attractions, most of which will be constructed by the private sector.”

He thanked the Mozambican government in a special way for granting a license to the Export Trading Company of Malawi that would spearhead smooth running of international business through the waterway.

President Wa Mutharika reiterated the promise he made in Chipata during the commissioning of the Chipata/Mchinji railway line that his government would rehabilitate the railway line and construct a bridge at Chilomoni to facilitate train operation from Nsanje Boma through Mchinji to Chipata in Zambia .

The Malawian President took advantage of the ceremony to reveal that he had another dream which was generated when he was COMESA Secretary General.

This dream is to have a fast train linking Blantyre and Harare , and join Botswana , Mozambique and South Africa and Tanzania and East Africa .

“This is not a wild dream; it’s a dream that can change the lives of the people in this country. This will happen one day,” he said.

And President Rupiah Banda congratulated Prof Wa Mutharika for the project and advised him not to listen to negative critics whose agenda was only to come to power and rule the nation at all costs.

President Banda observed that people who were criticizing national leaders for leading their countries to economic freedom were not patriotic to their States and lacked love for the people.

Mr. Banda, who flew to Blantyre direct from Mpulungu Port which services Zambia , the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania , Ruanda and Burundi in an effort to ensure that waterways connecting the said countries were operating successfully, said the Nsanje Port in Malawi would directly benefit his country.

He added that the opening of the Nsanje World Inland Port was indicative of how serious the Malawian President was in developing his country and uplifting living standards of his people.

Mr. Banda observed that the Nsanje World Inland Port was not important only to the people of Malawi but to Africa at large, adding that he and the people of Zambia were the direct beneficiary.

He described the occasion as a celebration of the dream-come true to lowering the cost of living and uplifting the lives of the people in the two countries. He advised Professor Wa Mutharika not to look back but forward with his vision.

“I want to congratulate you for being a stubborn implementer of what you believe in. You have done what is good for your people and you do not care what other people say. I am also accused of the same in Zambia but I am stubborn when it comes to implementing what is good for the people of Zambia ,” he said.

In the same vein, the Zimbabwean President, Mr. Robert Mugabe observed that there was still much to be done to open up landlocked countries to the outside world.

“We have not been practical enough in Africa since our political independence. We have wanted other people to do things for us – begging! We have done very little for ourselves in putting our resources together and inviting them to be partners with us, and on this project this is what we should do, not otherwise depending on them wholly,” he said.

Mr. Mugabe challenged SADC member countries to take the Nsanje World Inland Port together.

“We should facilitate it as our project together. Similar projects could be generated elsewhere and we have to come in. So let us accept the port as ours and enable it to function and not to stand in its way if it has to succeed,” he said.

Mr. Mugabe said if SADC countries happened to fail to support the project they should look at themselves as negative elements of the region. He described Zambia and his country as landlocked twins that were looking for as many routes to the sea as possible through the eastern, western and southern parts of Africa through which their goods could move freely.

Economic emancipation for any country cannot succeed if government is left alone to champion it as doing so calls for combined efforts. Critics must show potential leadership by helping government towards the noble responsibility of making life easier for a common man.

He noted that the idea of pulling down every developmental plan by government would always disadvantage the majority poor.

The private sector in Malawi has exhibited willingness to help the state achieve its goals on the Njsanje World Inland Port. Individuals used their resources while political critics saw nothing good in the project. It is hoped that one day, when they are in the driving seat of the country, they will review their views over the project.

The Zambian private and business sectors should also take advantage of the Nsanje port in Malawi . Prof Wa Mutharika is inviting co-operating partners to invest in the transport sector in Malawi .

The government of Zambia , being a direct beneficiary of the port, has made a move. The state is in the process of securing land for constructing a warehouse for cargo, said Zambia ’s High Commissioner to Malawi , Richard Kachingwe.

After several decades of political independence, Africans must unite and fight economic dependence by shelving internal, unproductive politics and concentrating on discussing, resolving and implementing what is economically beneficial to individual citizens and the state at large. ZANIS FEATURE SERVICE.

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