(eTN) – Plans announced earlier this week by Tanzania’s Transport Minister Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe, that the government was to construct the Tanga Musoma rail line and the Southern rail line anew, along a full refurbishment and upgrade to standard gauge measures of the Central line, were met with skepticism by economic observers.
While the Southern line will meet a number of criteria to connect the town of Mtwara, now best known for vast gas fields offshore, with the vast interior spaces of East Africa’s largest country, so will the refurbishment of the Central line be in line with major transport infrastructure upgrades, similar to the rehabilitation soon going underway of the TAZARA Railway, which links Dar es Salaam with Lusaka in Zambia.
However, the planned US$3.6 billion Tanga to Musoma line has come under serious doubts now as it was a link to create an alternative railway corridor from Uganda’s Port Bell via a still yet to be constructed new port in Musoma – linked by rail ferry – and on to an equally newly constructed port at Mwambani, at the dead centre of the Coelacanth Marine National Park in Tanga.
‘Going by the noises coming out of Dar it seems that finally common sense has taken root again. They are now focusing on the improvement, modernization and expansion of Tanga port, which is very much underutilized as it is, rather than getting into another huge global controversy about destroying the Coelacanth habitat. In any case, Mwambani is far too shallow for a port and therefore far too costly to construct whereas Tanga has already infrastructure like roads in place. It also has the option to add more deep sea berths with a fraction of the cost of building Mwambani just a few kilometres down the coastline. I also think that Tanzania’s isolationism in the EAC has cooled the desire by Uganda to invest so heavily in a railway line to Musoma when they have just committed to the cofunding of the standard gauge line from the Kenyan border to Kampala and on to the Rwanda border. And there is also a problem for the Central line extension to Rwanda from Isaka. The political ice age between Kigali and Dar es Salaam has most likely scuttled that plan and all because someone I shall not name has shot off his mouth uncontrolled over Rwanda’s most sensitive issue, their fight with the genocidaires still holed up in Congo. They can never negotiate with those guys like the Jews could never negotiate with Hitler. It is total elimination as the only option for Rwanda to see those enemies destroyed, arrested, prosecuted and jailed. We in Tanzania have done ourselves a big disservice in alienating our EAC partners to such an extent that they had to form their own league and develop infrastructure. Let no one be fooled what some media sections said about Dar being bolstered by their so called victory in Eastern Congo. That has only added more ice on to the layers in relations with Uganda and Rwanda and the repercussions will be long and costly for us. If our forces had been part to eliminate the FDLR first, that would have won us hearts and minds in Rwanda and Uganda but going after M23 first was again a tactical mistake of the highest order and only to please the regime in Kinshasa which has been tolerating and hosting the FDLR since 1994 with not one significant effort to rout them and bring them to justice. We in Tanzania got lured into that power game and will be the losers for it.
Yes, the Southern line construction and the Central line refurbishment will be a huge boost for trade and travel within Tanzania, and so will the rehabilitation of the TAZARA Railway but those other plans, Tanga to Musoma and Isaka to the Rwanda border, I am no longer sure. A Rwandan economics colleague told me tongue in cheek that they would not be part of it much longer as Tanzania would very likely only use that railway to deport more Rwandans, so you can see what sentiments recent actions by our government has stirred’ said and wrote a regular source from Dar es Salaam, clearly on condition of strict anonymity for the opinions voiced would be a recipe for trouble considering the often harshly repressive reactions of the Tanzanian government over such open dissent and alternative opinions. An interesting analysis though from someone always close up to the economic developments in Tanzania, and as always, time will tell which of the new rail lines can be financed and which will be built, today in line with viability and no longer as a white elephant.