Malawi gives up on Zambezi shipping project

By Jorge Joaquim

Malawi has given up on its dream of using the Shire and Zambezi rivers as a route for goods to reach the sea, Mozambique’s transport minister has said. The decision follows a recent understanding between Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and his Malawian counterpart, Lazarus Chakwera, on facilitating increased use of the Mozambican port and rail systems for Malawian trade.

The project to use the rivers was the brainchild of a previous Malawian President, Bingu wa Mutharika, who considered the “Shire-Zambezi Waterway” as key to lowering transport costs to the Indian Ocean.

Malawi’s new government has accepted the results of a report commissioned by Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia in 2015 which found that using the rivers would not be viable — and instead will use a new connection to the Sena rail line that goes to Beira, and the Nacala rail line that runs through Malawi, as well as road access to the Nacala and Beira freight corridors.

The need for the Shire-Zambezi Waterway was always highly questionable, since all of Malawi’s trade can be handled comfortably by the Mozambican ports of Beira and Nacala and the railways that connect them to Malawi.

The new Malawian government seems to have come to terms with this reality, and accepts that the Mozambican ports are quite capable of dealing with Malawian exports and imports.

Nacala is generally regarded as the best deep water port on the east African coast, and its broad access channel never requires dredging. The Mozambican authorities assured their Malawian counterparts that they will continue the programme to rehabilitate and modernise Nacala, costed at around 300 million US dollars. This will raise the handling capacity of the port from 100,000 to 250,000 containers a year.

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