Southern African News Features                                           SANF 10 No 21, May 2010
Unity Bridge: Symbol of unity, prosperity
by Forbes Chinyemba and Kizito Sikuka

In a remote corner of southern Africa, the opening of the "bridge of dreams" marks another milestone towards deeper regional integration.

The new Unity Bridge is the only land crossing over the Ruvuma river between northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania.

Initiated 35 years ago by the then presidents of the two countries, the late Samora Machel and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere respectively, the bridge became a reality on 12 May 2010.

The opening of the bridge means that the two countries, separated by a river but with longstanding historical and family ties, can further strengthen their political, social, economic and cultural relations, and expand intra-regional trade.

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza described the bridge as one of the greatest achievement in recent history, saying that its "benefits will not be limited to bringing closer the people of our region, but also of the whole of Africa with all the resulting positive spins towards development."

He added that more should be done in terms of rehabilitating road and communications networks on both sides of the border to ensure the smooth movement of goods and people.

"The bridge of the dreams of those who imagined our future is here," Guebuza said at the inauguration ceremony that was witnessed by his Tanzanian counterpart, Jakaya Kikwete.

"We are aware that we still have to complete the work that we have started with the bridge. With the same commitment with which we built the bridge, we are sure that those improved roads, from Negomano to Mueda, in Mozambique, and from Mtambatswala and Nangomba, in Tanzania, will soon become a reality."

Kikwete said the construction of the bridge is remarkable considering the limited resources that were available to finance the project.

He said few would believe that the two countries built the bridge using their own resources, adding that this represents the will of both governments to develop their countries as well as improve the lives of the two peoples.

"Within a few months from now, we will see a difference," he said, adding that "the bridge will stimulate economic activities in the region and, consequently, improve people's living standards".

He urged everyone to take care of the bridge, saying if it is destroyed "we will go back to travelling in canoes".

Spanning about 720 metres long and 13.5 metres wide, the bridge cost the governments of Mozambique and Tanzania more than US$35 million.

This was after international donors gave the project a lukewarm response when approached, claiming that there was not enough traffic between the two countries to warrant such an investment.

However, the leaders of the two countries were determined that infrastructure development should come first in order to promote traffic. This meant that the governments had to take bold decisions to make sure the project became a reality.

The Unity Bridge is expected to boost development, not only in the riparian regions of Mtwara in Tanzania and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, but also in the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region as it is an important component of the Mtwara development corridor.

The Mtwara development corridor is a Spatial Development Initiative which has the backing of the four countries directly linked to it -- Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania.

The corridor initiative, which was launched in 2005, will include the improvement of the port at Mtwara, and the road and telecommunications network.

Mtwara is strategically located in southern Tanzania, touching on northern Mozambique, as well as being a potential port for northern Malawi and eastern Zambia.

It is hoped that the completion of the bridge would provide important lessons for SADC Member States to intensify similar projects such as the Kazungula Bridge, which involves Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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