By MAIMBOLWA MULIKELELA –
Despite its high cost which has also contributed to increased prices of certain commodities, the Zambian transport sector is steadily developing.
The high cost of transport has put the Zambian economy in a disadvantaged position in comparison with some of its neighbouring countries.
This high cost is mainly attributed to the physical and non-physical barriers to trade and transport such as poor infrastructure network, excessive checkpoints along the main roads, unbalanced traffic flows and long waiting hours at border points.
With a population of 13 million people, the country depends on the cost effective and efficient road and railway transport links for both its import and export as well as for transit.
The country’s main export product copper, is being transported both by road and railway to Dar es Salam from the Copperbelt Province.
It is believed that the inland water transport could play an important role in facilitating both export and import of goods, if investment was channeled towards the development of water transport.
The inland waterway takes place mainly on Lake Tanganyika which is shared by four countries namely, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia using the port of Mpulungu.
The Zambian Government also has plans to link Mpulungu to the TAZARA railway network.
Currently, Zambia exports sugar, cement, steel and other commodities through the Mpulungu Port into the Great Lakes region.
Zambia has the potential of developing the foreign trade of mineral resources, agricultural products and processed commodities.
It may attract transit transport and thereby becoming a regional distribution centre for all kinds of goods and commodities if certain conditions were met such as, investing and harnessing the potential of Lake Tanganyika.
Also a pro-active attitude was needed from the Government to promote investment in transport distribution infrastructure and to guarantee free development of business initiatives in this respect.
It is in this spirit that the Government and the African Development Bank (AfDB) signed the US$1.558 million grant from NEPAD-Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (IPPF) to start studies for investments in the Lake Tanganyika Corridor.
The agreement was the step in the right direction to opening up of the Lake Tanganyika Corridor for trade and peace for countries in the Great Lakes region.
The project aims at identifying specific areas for the rehabilitation and modernisation of Mpulungu port as well as to analyse its technical and economic viability.
This will also help to assess the environmental and social impact of the project in readiness for investments hence contributing to the development of the Lake Tanganyika transport corridor.
We believe the project will increase the capacity and efficiency of Mpulungu port and consequently enhance the transportation through the lake and the regional corridors.
Also the project will improve the safety of navigation on Lake Tanganyika and cargo handling activities at Mpulungu port through installation of cargo handling equipment and navigation aids.
It is expected that enhanced transport on Lake Tanganyika will increase the number of jobs at and around the Mpulungu port.
Furthermore, the project will provide a fuel efficient transport mode along the regional corridors, since research shows that waterway transport is the most fuel efficient of all transport modes.
AfDB Resident Representative Freddie Kwesiga pointed out that the grant agreement signed with Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda worth US$1.558 million from the NEPAD-IPPF would open up Lake Tanganyika Corridor for trade.
Dr Kwesiga explained that the project itself comprises a feasibility study and detailed engineering design for Mpulungu port development, including Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), technical assistance for procurement and management of the project, financial audit and administration and coordination cost for the executing agency.
He pointed out that the executing agency will be the Department of Maritime and Inland Waterways of the Ministry of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications.
The estimated overall costs for the Project is US$1.558 million of which the government has committed US$0.08 million, and NEPAD-IPPF will fund the remaining USD1.478 million which is equivalent to 94.87 per cent of the study costs.
Dr Kwesiga said the duration of the project was estimated to be 12 months from the date of signature of the contracts for consultancy services for the feasibility study and detailed engineering design.
“A complementary study of the Bujumbura port in the Republic of Burundi is also being financed by the NEPAD-IPPF Special Fund,” Dr Kwesiga said.
Under the feasibility and detailed engineering design, Dr Kwesiga said the project was expected to analyse and assess the port, carryout bathymetric surveys and engineering investigations, demand forecast and identification and preliminary designs of the projects options.
It is also important to point out that the project would analysis the economic impact, financial and to conduct preliminary assessment to indicate the environmental and social implications.
“A detailed engineering design including preparation of bidding documents for the selected project, full-scale ESIA in line with Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), and institutional capacity assessment and capacity development for maritime-related officers such as training in port management, logistics, project management and among others,” Dr Kwesiga said.
Apart from these efforts, the Eastern African Community (EAC) was working on harnessing the potential of Lake Tanganyika by attracting investment to the Lake basin.
EAC believes that there is so much potential that needs to be tapped in the Lake through investment as it was in other regions.
Northern Province Minister Freedom Sikazwe said the deal clinched between the Government and AfDB would help improve the state of the Mpulungu port and bring it to international standards.
He said: “We want to improve on the state of Mpulungu port and bring it to better standards like other ports such as Burundi. If you look at Burundi harbour, it is more advanced than ours hence this kind of investment from the agreement signed between Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda and AfDB.”
This is very important both to the people of Mpulungu and the Government as well, because it is going to open up the area especially with the tarring of Mbala / Nakonde road and the Kanyala road.
“We expect a lot of goods coming from Malawi and Tanzania going through the Mpulungu port. There are also plans to extend the railway line from Nseluka so as to allow for more cargo to go though
Mpulungu,” Mr Sikazwe said.
Nseluka in Mungwi District of Northern Provuince is one of the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) stations, 35 Kilometres northwards from Kasama district.
He said: “It is a strategic point and it is the only internationally recognised port in the country where we can transport goods into DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania so, the deal is a very welcome move and it can start as soon as possible so that we improve the standards of the port and this will definitely improve the lives of the people in the area.”