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The Africa Report

Sameera Casmod |
14 November 2023 | 12:20 CAT
1-min read

Picture: International Railway Journal

In the Africa Report, Emmanuel Matambo, PhD graduate and research director at the Centre for Africa-China Studies, discussed the details of China’s commitment to the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tazara).

Historical significance of Tazara

The Tazara railway, nearly 50 years old, was funded by Mao Zhe Dong’s China to aid Zambia in overcoming its dependency on Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). China’s commitment extended beyond financial aid, with over 13,000 Chinese laborers contributing to the project, marking a significant symbol of China-Africa friendship. However, despite being hailed as an iconic infrastructural feat, Tazara has faced challenges over the decades.

Challenges and suboptimal performance

Challenges contributing to Tazara’s suboptimal performance include shifts in trade routes, economic difficulties in Zambia and Tanzania, and the onset of structural adjustment programs. The railway, designed for optimal cargo transport, fell short of expectations, reaching its highest cargo volume of 1.27 million tons in 1978.

Current negotiations and change in model

The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), a subsidiary of the China Railway Construction Corporation, is currently negotiating a public-private partnership concession using a build-operate-transfer model. Matambo suggests a shift to a more market-oriented model, emphasizing private-public partnerships, to enhance Tazara’s efficiency and viability.

Looking forward

To ensure Tazara’s success, Tanzania, Zambia, and China must adapt a business-oriented approach, replacing past ideological sentiments. The emphasis on market orientation, private-sector involvement, and a pragmatic view of the railway’s role in contemporary trade can contribute to its revitalisation.

CCECC’s commitment in a global context

The commitment of the CCECC to Tazara aligns with China’s broader infrastructure initiatives, notably the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China’s influence has inspired global players, including the G7, to engage in Africa’s infrastructure development. The recent commitment to the Lobito Corridor by the African Development Bank, EU, G20, and governments of Angola, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo reflects a collaborative effort to address Africa’s infrastructure deficit.

Listen to the Africa Report on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat.


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