by Amos Chanda – SANF 05 no 39
The agreement between Angola and Zambia to reconstruct the life-line Benguela railway is the latest example of practical commitment to regional integration in southern Africa and economic development on the continent.
The US$60 million project to rebuild the Benguela rail line is a direct dividend of the peace process that ended a protracted civil war that, for 27 years, tore apart and slowed down Angola’s otherwise vibrant economy.
On 30 March, Angola and Zambia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on relinking of the two countries’ rail systems and thus provided a framework within which the rail project will be undertaken.
The Benguela railway is one of many Southern African Development Community (SADC) projects that have been designed to fit into the development goals set out in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
“The rail line will be run by a private-owned firm called Northwest Rail under a partnership with Angolan and Zambian firms,” said Ambassador Bob Samakai, the permanent secretary in the Zambian Ministry of Communication and Transport.
Both Angolan and Zambian authorities see the reconstruction of the Benguela railway as a window of economic opportunity that will boost both countries’ export earnings as well as guarantee millions in transport savings.
“Apart from boosting the resurgent copper mining industry on the Zambian Copperbelt, the Benguela railway route will not only transport metal exports to Europe and North American customers, but will also serve as a major step in the regional integration programme under SADC,” said Ambassador Samakai.
The railway will relink the two countries after three decades of abandon and damage inflicted during civil conflict between Angolan government forces and the former rebel União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (Unita). The conflict ended in 2002.
The rail line suffered great damage and became a dangerous route as warring guerrillas attacked crew and looted goods in transit to and from the sea port.
Benguela is an essential, cheaper route for Zambian copper exports and machinery imports, which at the moment suffer long and often expensive rail and road routes from South Africa through Zimbabwe or Botswana.
But Benguela is a direct route to the Angolan seaport on the Atlantic Ocean through which Zambian goods could be exported and imported at a cheaper cost than the more distant South African ports.
The project comes at a time when Zambia’s copper production is on the increase following the rise of copper prices on the global market. Copper is Zambia’s chief export and major foreign exchange earner of up to 70 percent.
Two new largescale greenfields have begun operations in north-western Zambia on the border with Angola while other previously loss-making mines have recovered and have begun to post profits following successful privatisation.
The rail line will service chiefly the Kansanshi and Lumwana copper, cobalt and gold mines in Zambia’s North Western Province where Canadian and Austrian mine companies have began operations to extract the metals. (SARDC)