China reiterates strategy to keep Tazara plan alive

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  • This sentiment resonates deeply as China and Africa stand at a crossroads, poised to chart a new course in their bilateral relations

Dar es Salaam. China has reiterated her intention to carry forward the historic Tanzania Zambia Railway (Tazara) spirit, as it commits to honouring the legacy and the sacrifices made by Chinese experts, technicians and workers.

Chinese ambassador to Tanzania, Chen Mingjian, reaffirmed her country’s commitment during a ceremony held at the Chinese Experts’ Cemetery in Dar es Salaam on April 2, 2024.

More than 70 Chinese experts and technicians were commemorated for their sacrifice during the construction of the historic railway.

Ms Chen insisted: “There is a need to carry forward the Tazara spirit, a spirit rooted in mutual respect, perseverance, and friendship.”

This sentiment resonates deeply as China and Africa stand at a crossroads, poised to chart a new course in their bilateral relations.

The solemn occasion, they said, not only honoured the lives lost but also underscored the enduring bond between China, Tanzania, and Zambia—a relationship forged in the crucible of infrastructure development.

Tanzania’s minister for Transport, Prof Makame Mbarawa, eloquently expanded the significance of Tazara, stating: “Tazara serves as a monument of the longstanding relationship between Tanzania, China, and Zambia.”

Indeed, the construction of the 1,860-kilometre railway in the 1970s marked a watershed moment, symbolising China’s commitment to supporting its African counterparts in their pursuit of economic independence.

Originally conceived to bolster Zambia’s economic ties with the South African region, Tazara has evolved to become more than a mere transport link.

Prof Mbarawa highlighted its transformative potential, noting that today, Tazara can serve as a vital artery connecting the entire Southern Africa region to the port of Dar es Salaam.

“It is high time for this generation to make sure that this desired friendship is lasting forever through the re-strengthening of the corridor going forward,” he said.

However, despite its lofty aspirations, the railway has faced considerable challenges in recent years, according to Prof Mbarawa.

“Operational difficulties, undercapitalisation, and declining freight traffic have plagued the railway, casting a shadow over its once-grand vision,” he said.

At its peak in 1986, Prof Mbarawa said freight traffic reached 1.2 million tonnes but dwindled to a mere fraction of its capacity by the 1990s.

“Today, Tazara operates at less than two percent of its designed capacity, a stark reminder of the need for revitalisation.”

Acknowledging these challenges, Prof Mbarawa revisited the plan to hand the concession to run Tazara to a Chinese state-owned company, China Civil and Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

He said negotiations were underway, with proposals for upgrading the railway and significant investment from China on the table.

Reports suggest that China could inject over $1 billion into refurbishing Tazara, breathing new life into this vital artery of commerce.

However, amidst these aspirations for renewal, Tazara faces competition from another railroad backed by the United States.

This competing railway aims to connect Zambia to the Lobito port on Angola’s Atlantic coast, posing a formidable challenge to Tazara’s dominance in the region.

Yet, despite this looming rivalry, the spirit of collaboration and partnership espoused by Tazara remains undimmed.

“As we reflect on the journey of Tazara—from its inception as a symbol of solidarity to its current quest for revitalization—we are reminded of the enduring bond between China, Tanzania, and Zambia,” Prof Mbarawa said.

He noted that the bond was forged in the crucible of shared history, mutual respect, and a vision for a brighter future.

“As Tazara embarks on a new chapter, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to nurturing this friendship and building a more prosperous, interconnected Africa,” he proposed.

In the words of Ambassador Chen Minjian, “let us build an even closer China-Tanzania and China-Africa community with a shared future, guided by the spirit of Tazara and the promise of renewed collaboration.”

An expert in international relations, Dr Arafat Mbunda said the commemoration at the Chinese Experts’ Cemetery served as a reminder of the sacrifices made in the name of progress and the enduring spirit of friendship that binds China, Tanzania, and Zambia together.

“As Tazara embarks on a new chapter, let us seize this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to shared prosperity and mutual respect, ensuring that the legacy of Tazara continues to inspire generations to come.”