Governments Sign Zambezi Waterway Accord
Ministers from the southern African countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop the long-envisioned Shire-Zambezi Waterway project, the online publication Africa Water News reported on July 6.
Malawi Minister of Transport Henry Mussa and Zambian envoy to Malawi Joshua Mweemba signed on behalf of their governments, while Mozambique was represented by Minister of Transport Paulo Zucula.
The Zambezi and Shire Rivers were touted in the 19th century as the best routes into central Africa, and developing them for modern vessels has been a century-old dream. This MOU comes about after years of delays, false starts and reversals.
The Zambezi is Africa’s fourth-longest river and the longest east-flowing one. It borders or passes through six countries on its 1,500-mile journey from a marsh in Zambia’s northwestern corner to the Indian Ocean. The Shire River, which flows through southwestern Malawi, joins the Zambezi in Mozambique above the city of Caia.
The Portuguese did a major study on the possibility before leaving their one-time African colonies. Up until the 1970s, the Zambezi still allowed water transport. But civil war in Mozambique beginning in the 1970s, and continued silting, have curtailed river traffic for years.
It’s not the first try for the three governments. They signed an MOU last August, but Mozambique withdrew from that agreement in November because it said that required environmental studies were not being done by the Zimbabwean firm hired by the consortium.
The next step will be the hiring of an international firm to perform hydrographic studies, said Victor Lungu, Director of Transport and Planning in Malawi’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
The project’s cost was estimated in 2007 at $6 billion in a study by German firm Hydroplan Ingenieur, which called for further hydrographic, technical and economic feasibility studies. The Hydroplan Ingenieur report envisioned the dredging of a 238-kilometer canal from Nsanje, in southern Malawi, to the Indian Ocean.
Landlocked Malawi and Zambia have the most to gain from the Zambezi-Shire project. Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, in particular, has been pushing it for years. Malawi has estimated that it loses 30 percent of the value of its exports to transportation costs.
Various international agencies, mining companies, and foreign governments have expressed interest in investing in the project, which would lower transportation costs for rich coal and mineral reserves in Zambia, Malawi and northeastern Mozambique, as well as dramatically lowering the cost of imports for the three countries.