George Mhango, Blantyre Malawi
September 18, 2015

Malawi and other Sadc member states have agreed that feasibility studies into the viability of the Shire Zambezi Waterway which stalled in 2010 due to the death of the architect ex-president the late Bingu wa Mutharika should resume.

This follows news that Lilongwe and Maputo will not be the only beneficiaries of the $5 billion Shire Zambezi Waterway project once it comes into fruition.

The feasibility studies for Shire Zambezi water way project have since received the financial backing of the African Development Bank-ADB.

The initiative will further connect Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia to the Indian Ocean and help cut transportation, exportation and importation costs.

Other countries include landlocked Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda and Burundi.

Malawi’s confederation of chambers of commerce and Industry (MCCCI), which is a mother body of business entities in Malawi have backed the decision to have feasibility studies conducted.

The project is good for both Malawi and Mozambique as it will cut on costs of importation goods and deal with congestion at the ports of Beira and Nacala, which are mainly used by Lilongwe,” said Lewis Chiwalo, whose business Multi.Com imports into the country.

Targets for the project
Initially, the project aims at easing transportation challenges Malawi and other landlocked countries face when they import and exports goods and services.

Considering the hypothetical nature of the project, the consultants had to work with many assumptions, hence the delay.

Based on the report, the available database turned out to be insufficient to suggest a definite decision on the issue of re-opening the waterway.

For President Peter Mutharika, the African Union (AU) , European Union (EU) and World Bank have since endorsed the project considering its impact on the transport and business sectors.

“Prefeasibility studies have since discovered that further surveys and studies would be necessary to assess the actual technical feasibility,” he said.

Malawi's leader Peter Mutharika backs feasibility studies. Photo by George Mhango
Malawi’s leader Peter Mutharika backs feasibility studies. Photo by George Mhango

He added that the fact that 90 percent of the planned route crosses the territory of the neighbouring Mozambique implies a close cooperation and common interests.

Thus the consultants recommended a pertinent dialogue between the two governments,” said Mutharika.

The project, which stalled in 2010 was launched by former president Bingu wa Mutharika, Robert Mugabe of Mozambique and ex-president of Zambia Rupiah Banda.

Mozambique’s former President Almando Guebuza boycotted the launch of the Shire Zambezi Waterway on the basis that he was in the United Kingdom.

However, the absence of Guebuza raised concerns that Maputo was against the launch of the project because feasibility studies had not yet been concluded to warrant the launch.

Setbacks to the Initiative
The Shire-Zambezi waterway was successfully used as a transport waterway by explorers and missionaries to Malawi a century and a half ago.

During that time, the port of call in Malawi was in Nsanje District formerly known as Port Herald along the Shire River.

As recent as 1970, Mawtam Ltd operated a barge service transporting molasses from Chiromo in Malawi to Chinde on the coast of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique.

Although the civil war in Mozambique not only disrupted the continuous use of the waterway, but also forced Malawi to completely reshuffle its transport options to continue its external trade, the memory of successful cargo transport on the Shire-Zambezi waterway system from Malawi to the open sea at Chinde never faded.

Studies conducted only revealed the enormous transport costs Malawi incurs by its external trade. These costs are continuously exacerbated by ever-increasing costs for fuel.

This story was produced with support from CSE Media Fellowships Programme.

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