THE initiative to extend the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) railway line to Burundi through Mpulungu will certainly bolster economic outlay as Zambia seeks to accelerate growth anchored on critical sectors of the economy.
The Great Lakes Region (GLR), where Burundi is located, provides a fertile ground for trade and economic expansion for Zambia which is centrally located.
From a simple analysis, the extension is a mammoth project which requires colossal sums of money considering that the railway line will have to be tapped from Kasama or Mungwi at Nseluka area to Mpulungu before it is laid through the vast Northern part of the country to the GLR.
Though the project requires huge sums of money, the two countries will certainly execute the task satisfactorily on 50-50 basis because the return will outstrip the cost on construction.
Already, Zambia exports goods such as sugar and cement to the GRL through the port of Mpulungu using the waterway. The capacity of water ferries is not sufficient for the growing market.
Tazara will, therefore, provide this export route with reliable transport in train wagons, which have sufficient freight volume to cart cargo to the GLR.
The GLR has a ready market in the vast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. The countries are huddled around Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria.
Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Wylbur Simuusa in giving an update, says that plans have advanced and that a budget will be tabled to pave way for a feasibility study.
While the feasibility study is underway, it will be prudent for Zambia and Tanzania to expedite the process of recapitalising TAZARA, which has suffered a great deal of deterioration in infrastructure.
Tazara in its current form cannot sustain extended operations to the GRL, unless the two governments rescue the railway firm which has been teetering on knife edge.
Over the years, Tazara’s operations in both cargo and passenger services have plummeted to frightening levels, as at one time the firm could not even procure diesel to run locomotives.
The company has in the past been plagued by protests from workers and retirees who have not been paid their dues, while suppliers of goods and services have also been stalking management at this jointly-owned railway company.
Yes, plans are afoot to redeem Tazara from its current quagmire, but the process must be quickened so that this extension project can bear fruit.
Once the extension is done, passengers particularly tourists will have an alternative mode of transport as they travel to sample tourism packages in the Northern circuit in Zambia and other spots in the East African rift valley.
Zambia will also benefit from transit passengers and cargo through Tazara to the Southern African region.
When the Tazara railway line is extended, there will be less pressure on the Zambian road network which has been left to buckle under heavy haulage vehicles for a long time.
Job creation is one of the positive spin-offs of this project which will absorb an army of unemployed youth during the construction phase and also after completion.
The priority sectors of the economy which include manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, mining, and construction will certainly be buoyed by this vital project which will facilitate transportation of various products.
At the moment, Tazara is underutilised because it only provides one gateway – the port of Dar-es-salaam.
Zambia and Burundi, therefore, must tie-up all loose ends and lend this particular project the utmost consideration.
Thus Tazara extension is spot on! OPINION