I was there. And I can assure you that what happened at Kapiri Mposhi in southern Zambia in October few years back was a touching event for everyone present. Thousands of Zambians and many Chinese gathered for a special event. What was the center of attraction? A blue diesel locomotive with a series of new cars glistening in the Zambian sun. The crowd gathered to witness the departure of the first individual railway line called "Tazara" (Tanzania Zambia Railroad Authority).The new railway line extends a distance of approximately 1850 kilometers from Kapiri Mposhi to the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
The opportunity was really exciting. Weeks before the official opening of the railway, the newspapers reported almost daily what it would transport, how it would benefit Zambia and how the work went. Many hailed the project as "Zambia's new lifeline", "Zambia's main street", "the great Uhuru railway [meaning" freedom "]".
I was one of the passengers on the first journey on the railway from Tazara to Dar es Salaam. Let me explain some interesting facts about this new mode of transport.
Some unique features
If you are used to traveling to other countries by train, you may be surprised by your first trip to Tazara. You will quickly discover that it has only one clue. "What!" you call. "How do trains cross in opposite directions?" Easy. Every 13 kilometers there is a ring road or a ring road where one train can separate to pass the other.
Another thing that can catch your attention is that the sleepers or sleepers that act as the base of the rails are made of concrete instead of wood. The trees would serve as a feast for the termites in this tropical region. There was also a lot of work to plant deep-rooted grass along the beach. This unites the country and prevents it from being washed away by the heavy rains that hit Zambia in November.
Of the nineteen tunnels along the line, eighteen lie in a distance of about 150 kilometers into central Tanzania. Here the railway crosses the Uzungwa Mountains. Interestingly, it was on this difficult terrain that the builders made the biggest gains on the construction site.
China makes it possible
There was a great need to install Tazara. Zambia is a landlocked country. To survive economically, it must import food, raw materials and mining machinery. Zambia must also export goods. Copper accounts for 90% of its export earnings. The railway was necessary to improve Zambia's foreign trade opportunities. But where would the money come from to finance such an important project?
I thought about it on the first leg of our trip to Kapiri Mposhi. We cross a well-grown and somewhat robust plateau. This part of the railway runs parallel to a new motorway where we noticed many gray trucks driven by Chinese in identical blue-gray uniforms. Some new estimates suggest that the Chinese workforce will employ between 15,000 and 42,000 people for this project. We can say that our railway was built by the Chinese with the help of workers from Zambia and Tanzania.
How did China come to build an African railway? The first step in securing the economy was a strategy from the World Bank. But the answer was no. Therefore, they tried to raise money from the Great Britain,Germany, France and the United States of America.
The outlook began to improve. At the time, Tanzania's President Nyerere was visiting China. Before China returned, China agreed to commit up to 100 million pounds (177.4 million dollars) to build the Tanzanian railway section. Two years later, Zambian President visited Beijing. At that time, the governments of Zambia, Tanzania and China agreed that China would provide an extra interest-free loan to cover the costs of height, planning, construction and equipment.
There is great hope that the Tazara Railway will bring significant economic benefits, especially for Zambia and Tanzania. It should stimulate the development of agriculture and livestock. The Tanzanian town of Mbeya, for example, is about 50 kilometers from the Zambian border. The plateau and mountain around Mbeya offer considerable potential for the cultivation of grains, oilseeds and other products. Around central Tanzania lies the Kilombero Valley, which is already the largest source of sugar cane in Tanzania. Kilombero's fertile and well-irrigated soil has great potential. In addition to sugar cane, it is suitable for growing rice and vegetables, as well as raising livestock. Since the railway provides easy transportation to the port city of Dar es Salaam, there are good reasons to increase agricultural production.
Tazara will also do a lot to stimulate the industry. The reduced shipping costs for transporting copper from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam are an advantage. The current mode of transportation of trucks poses problems. Due to the need to distribute the weight, the copper must be transported in the form of individual bars. These must be placed on pallets upon arrival at the port. This requires additional administration and storage costs. Rail transport, however, allows copper to be placed on pallets near the mine. This can result in savings of up to £ 2.70 ($ 4.79) per tonne.
The iron ore and coal deposits represent another potential for industrial development, 200 kilometers east of Mbeya. Iron is estimated at 90 million tonnes and coal at 1.5 billion tonnes. According to data from Business Digest Africa / Middle East, China has taken out another £ 65million (US $ 11,530,000) loan to build an integrated steel plant in the iron-rich region, as well as a railroad to connect the warehouses to the new site. Railway.
Can Dar es Salaam handle enlargement?
When we arrived in Dar es Salaam, refreshments were waiting for us. In the heat of the midday sun, the Tanzanians excitedly shouted, “Jambo! Jambo! ", A word in Swahili which means" How are you? “In the background, you could see the Indian Ocean, the coast of which is lined with coconut palms.
For many, however, the question has arisen: while the railroad can carry all of the imports Zambia needs, can the port of Dar es Salaam meet the growing demand placed upon it?
It is true that this port has grown rapidly in recent years. But there are problems. Last year, cargo from Zambia piled up in the port. While some accuse Zambian trucks of inadequacy, others accuse the East African Harbors Corporation of assigning incorrect rotation numbers to goods. Most port equipment such as cranes and forklifts fail due to lack of maintenance or waiting for spare parts.
Only time will tell if Dar es Salaam can meet the growing demands of the Tazara Railway. Either way, Tazara promises to be a boon to the African economy.