The Times of Zambia reported yesterday that the Chinese are providing TAZARA with a 39 million USD interest free loan. The Chinese being the Chinese, this more likely is seen by them as an investment, not a loan, in order for the train line which connects Zambia with the port of Dar Es Salaam to supply the African hinterland with Chinese finished goods and China with African raw materials. I would not be surprised if, when the TAZARA line was built, also by the Chinese in the 1970s, this was their plan from the beginning. It would be an explanation for why the passenger service, not being a core activity of the enterprise, does not connect to Lusaka, but to Kapiri Mposhi, some 200 kilometers from the capital, and much closer to the Copperbelt.
The article revealed a series of interesting tidbits.
+ The Tanzania Zambia Railway Company (TAZARA) is financially crippled. This explains the downscaling from 4 to 2 weekly passenger trains in both directions as well as the relative sorry state of affairs of the passenger wagons. In fact, last year both Zambian and Tanzanian presidents had appealed to the railway company’s creditors to cancel debts to save the company from collapse.
+ The intention is to have TAZARA run, by concession, by a ‘competent’ railway enterprise from China.
+ Six locomotives will be purchased, 120 wagons will be repaired. The four weekly trains come in at nowhere near 120 wagons, perhaps 60, at most. This leaves at least 60, what can only be, goods transport wagons. No doubt the reason for China’s interest.
+ The decision to fund was made somewhere last year, but only now made it into the paper.
+ Chinese ‘experts’ will evaluate the possibility of linking up other countries to the rail network. However, because the rail network already links up Kinshasa with Cape Town and Dar Es Salaam, this can only imply the Chinese intention to get a proper distribution network going in southern Africa.
The day before, the papers reported that RSZ, Railway Systems of Zambia, who operate the national rail network were moving their head offices to Lusaka, from Ndola. I wonder if that’s related.