Malawi: Shire Zambezi Water Way: Unlocking Africa

Nsanje World Inland Port Phase 1By Promise Zalakata Kamanga – LilongweMalawi just like many other African countries more especially in the Sub Saharan region continues to face myriad challenges in their endeavour for economic development.

One major contributing factor is the geographical making that has mostly rendered the big part of the continent inaccessible.

It was for this reason that Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika in the year 2006, unveiled ambitious plans to construct Shire-Zambezi Water Way connecting Malawi to the Indian Ocean.   

“After completion, Nsanje World Inland Port will be a modern multipurpose terminal with complex infrastructure, equipment and services. This will tremendously reduce the cost of doing business and result in economic growth and development of Malawi and the region,” Malawi’s Minister of Transport Sidik Mia told a group of journalists that visited the project site in October this year.

Shire-Zambezi Water Way is composed of Shire River in Malawi and Mozambique and Zambezi River in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and it was adopted as a priority project by both Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) at various fora.

Once completed, the project is expected to reduce cost of transport for countries sharing the Zambezi River Basin such as Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia by opening up Shire and Zambezi Rivers for navigation up to the Indian Ocean.

Launching the first phase of the project, which involved the construction of the quay, Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika asked for support from other African leaders and governments.

The President, who is also chairperson of the African Union (AU), said the project, once completed would help ease the transport barriers in the region which have largely been blamed for slow economic growth and development.

At present, Malawi uses the ports of Nacala and Beira in Mozambique, Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and Durban in South Africa. The ports are however, 850 Km, 1,700 Km and 650 Km away from Malawi thus making cost of transporting goods the most expensive in the region.

Most business people especially the second hand vehicle dealers and second hand clothes preferred traveling to Durban in South Africa or Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to clear their goods.

Existing threats

While the project has a potential of adding connectivity of the involved countries to the outside world, Mozambique seems has not fully endorsed the project reading from events unfolding.

Mozambican Minister of Natural Resources was quoted in that country’s media saying his government was not ready to fully join the project before completion of the feasibility study that would spell out the viability of the project.

Absence of the Mozambican officials from the launch of the first phase of the port on October 23, 2010 equally raised further questions on whether the country was really part of the project or not.

While Zambian President Rupiah Banda, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe joined the Malawi president at the launch, Mozambican government did not send any official to attend the event.                   

In addition to staying away from the event, Mozambican government also impounded two vessels that were on sailing on trials to the Nsanje World Inland Port for people to witness the viability of the water way during the launch on October 23, 2010.

Mozambican president Guebuza was also quoted in Malawi’s local media saying his government was ready to join the project only after the second feasibility study that seeks to assess the viability of the project.

Future prospects

The Shire-Zambezi Water Way Project has already attracted thousands of investors both foreign and local. At the moment, Mota-Engil, a Portuguese company has already pumped in MK6 billion.

Business economists have estimated that the water way would reduce cost of transport for goods by 60 per cent. In addition, the water way would save the country from perpetual fuel shortage which has largely been blamed at Tete Bridge in Mozambique where Malawi’s cargo passes through from Beira and Nacala Ports.