#Mtwara-Mbamba Bay Railway: President #Chakwera’s Challenge

By Olawale Rasheed

(With additional agency review)

He was just sworn in as a President after tough democratic struggle. President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi has another urgent challenge at hand-the need to revive implementation of the Mtwara Development Corridor. In reality, his first state visit should be to #Tanzania, the big brother to solicit fresh commitment to the development of the corridor.

In no distant past, the dream of a Mtwara-Mbamba Bay railway was almost a reality. Tenders issued; companies shortlisted; financing arranged. Malawi and Tanzania had agreed to open up borders and improve the transport system as a way of encouraging trade.The two countries had agreed to establish inland dry ports, revamp the Mtwara Corridor as well as boost the railway line & pipelines to transport liquid petroleum gas.

But political changes in Tanzania altered all calculations. The new maverick leader of Tanzania has a different ideas in his very successful push for railway and ports development. President Chakwera needs an urgent state visit to President Magfuli to discuss how to salvage whatever is left of that lofty agenda.

The Mtwara Development Corridor is very important to NEPAD’s infrastructural agenda espcially in the railway sector.The oil and natural gas-rich area, Mtwara Corridor is a spatial development initiative (SDI) comprising southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique, northern and central Malawi, and eastern and northern Zambia. MDC is among 18 SDIs in the SADC region that aims at developing a transportation corridor that will provide these regions with easier access to the port at Mtwara, Tanzania, as well as other transit corridors within the focus areas of the project.

Many stakeholders agree that Mtwara make sense due to of its proximity to Nacala in Mozambique. The new President can make a mark for his Presidency by pursuing this agenda. Malawi mainly depends on two rail links to the Indian Ocean ports – the 167 miles Trans-Zambezia Railway, from the south bank of the Zambezi to the main line from Beira to Zambia and a rail link to the Mozambique port of Nacala, so the proposed Mtwara Port-Mbamba Bay could be another link to the nation and the corridor as a whole.

The Ruvuma landscape is a transboundary landscape straddling southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique, a vast area of 290,000 sq km. The Mtwara Corridor bisects this vast landscape connecting significant inland resources with port access, unlocking inland development potential.

This resource corridor was identified in late 2004 with the signing of the Mtwara Development Corridor Agreement among the four countries of Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. The purpose of the corridor is to promote trade and investment in the four countries by improving and integrating transportation and other infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, ports, railway lines, telecommunications, and airports) in what is considered an underdeveloped part of East and Southern Africa.

It includes Infrastructure development (road and railway) between Mtwara Port (Indian Ocean) and Mbamba Bay Port (Lake Nyasa) with extensions to the coal and iron mines of Mchuchuma & Liganga in Njombe Region. The overall project also includes building of the Unity Bridge connecting Tanzania and Mozambique, a high capacity ferry linking Nkhata with Mbamba Bay, and the Mtwara port with the discovery of significant oil and gas reserves in the basin.

The countries committed to unlock the development potential of the region that is rich in natural resources, an effort that aligns with priorities of the AU/NEPAD. However, this corridor cuts through a globally significant biodiversity rich area that provides critical ecological services locally, regionally and globally.

I challenge President Chakwera to rise and become ambassador of Mtwara corridor. Malawi will benefit tremendously and Mr President will join the league of African infrastructure envoys.

*Olawale Rasheed is the Director, African Railway Roundtable, an African railway advocacy society.

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