Southern African News Features                                           SANF 10 No 36, Sept 2010
Chipata-Mchinji railway line opens for business

The historic launch of the Chipata-Mchinji railway line will provide the shortest route to the port of Nacala on the Indian Ocean, boosting trade not only in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia but the entire southern African region.

Linking eastern Zambia to Malawi, the Chipata-Mchinji railway would join Nacala railway in Mozambique, leading to the Nacala port.

The Nacala port is one of the three ports in Mozambique that has a natural deep water harbour, allowing unrestricted access to vessels of all sizes.

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony of the Chitapa-Mchinji railway line in late August, Zambian President Rupiah Banda said the development provides an opportunity for the three countries to deepen integration as well as boost trade in the region.

He said the railway line is critical to the economy of many southern African countries, particularly Zambia as it would reduce the cost of importing goods from the Far East.

Zambia was currently relying on the longer route to the ports, using the Tazara railway line that links the country with the port of Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania.

"Although it has taken this long," Banda said, "we are happy that we have reached this stage. Our dream has been realised."

"It makes it cheaper for us to bring in goods from Asia. It is the shortest route to the sea," he added.

However, Banda also urged the community to take good care of the railway, saying any vandalism would have an adverse impact on the economy of the three countries.

"I wish to appeal to the people of eastern province to guard this railway line jealously and to avoid acts of vandalism," he said.

His Malawian counterpart, Bingu wa Mutharika, who witnessed the commissioning ceremony concurred and said the private sector should partner the government in ensuring the railway line is a major success.

"The business community should respond to the political will shown and take advantage of the facility," he said.

He described the railway line as a major achievement for the three countries as it would enable them to smoothly transport their agricultural, mineral and manufactured goods across the region as well as to various destinations in the world.

Mozambican Transport and Infrastructure Minister Paulo Zucula, who stood in for President Armando Guebuza, also hailed the development as a major step towards deeper regional integration.

The Chipata-Mchinji rail was first initiated in the early 1970s as a bilateral project between Zambia and Malawi.

Construction work started in 1982 only to stall for several decades due to lack of funds. Availability of funds saw the construction of the railway resume in 2006.

When fully operational, the railway is expected to create employment for locals and promote the smooth movement of goods and people across the SADC region.

The railway will also have ripple effects on other economic sectors and bring down the price of most basic commodities.

Railway is regarded as one of the most reliable forms of transportation, especially for bulk goods, and it also reduces pressure on other transport means such as road.

The construction of the Chipata-Mchinji railway line meets the objective of Africa’s three regional economic communities, namely COMESA, EAC and SADC, who have agreed on a programme of action to build sound infrastructure to strengthen integration.

Over US$1.2 billion has been raised by the three communities to upgrade regional road, rail and port to support facilitation measures.

Planned projects include the construction of over 8,000km of roads, rehabilitation of 600km of rail and upgrading of ports.

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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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