When news first broke out, over a decade ago, that the government had resolved to build a bigger sea port along the Tanga coastline at Mwambani Bay, five kilometres from the city centre, people thought it was merely a political rhetoric.
But realistically, it is an idea that had remained on the drawing board for over a decade, despite relevant drawings for the project having been sanctioned sometime back.
What had actually triggered revisiting of the proposed construction of the new port, was the
ever-increasing volume of traffic, both exports and imports, though this was not a single factor.
It was discovered that the old Tanga Port which traditionally handled sisal, a crop which accounted for major export earnings for the country in the 60s and 70s, including coffee from the mountain slopes of Kilimanjaro and tea from Eastern Usambara, was gradually failing to deal effectively with traffic on offer.
“Since 1977, upward trend in view of traffic handled at the port has gone up as much as 86 percent, according to a paper presentation by Tanga Port Master Awadh Massawe at a Regional Consultative Council meeting held in Tanga in May this year.
Imports traffic handled at the port from 2001to 2010 had been recording an average of 18.2 percent per year, a fact perpetuated by bulk oil traffic and clinker, an important input in cement production, according to Massawe.
At the meeting, the Port Master had said various challenges faced the port. These included low berth which was an inhibitor to ships from anchorage within the port vicinity – necessitating double handling.
“We need bigger pontoons to handle the ever increasing heavier cargo”, said Massawe, adding that the situation obtaining had necessitated his authority to embark on procurement of three pontoons with capacity of 3500 tons each.
Concerned with plight facing the present port, the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) commissioned consultants to undertake feasibility study on the proposed new Mwambani Port.
What followed was tabling of the study by the experts – URS Consultants – at a stakeholders forum in July this year.
The consultants highlighted potentials of the port, among them massive handling of soda ash from Lake Natron, in Manyara Region. Others were, according to the two-man team, haulage of cement from the ever expanding Tanga Cement factory.
However, some port stakeholders questioned the credibility of the study, which according to them, did not mention the damage the project would cause to the Coelacanth Marine Park, a government owned tourism facility along the Tanga coastline which was right in the middle of the proposed port.
Another reason, they said, was the fact that environmentalists in several parts of the world, were against investment in soda ash extraction at Lake Natron on grounds that it is in the where lesser flamingos –a bird specie and tourist attraction, breed in thousands every year.
Lake Natron is the only area where flamingos are found in East Africa; exploration in the area, would result in complete extinction of the birds ,they say..
The Marine Park a unit under the Ministry Natural Resources and Tourism, covers seven villages along the coast line. These are Mahandakini, Moa, Boma Kichakamiba, Doda, Kibiboni, Kwale and Kizingani.
Others are Ulenge Island Mwambani, Tongoni Reef and Kiungani. It’s involved in conservation of coelacanth – an oldest fish .Coelacanth came back from the dead when one was found off the South Africa coast in 1938. It is a specie older than any land mammal - first found in the Comoros.
Environmentalists are worried that should the Tanzania’s resolve to build the proposed multi-million new port go through ,the rare type of fish ,whose average weight is estimated to be 100 kgs, will ultimately be wiped out.
The local and international conservation groups, outraged over the proposal, say the government’s economic justification that the factory would, after all, be built 32 kilometres away from the lake was baseless, on account of the fact that activities in respect of mining would still be taking place at the lake-causing enormous disturbance to the birds.
In a related development, Minister of Trade and Industries, Dr Abdallah Kigoda told a recent parliamentary session in Dodoma that the National Development Corporation [NDC] had completed studies to help reduce ecological damage during soda ash mining at Lake Natron.
Dr Kigoda reportedly said implementation of the project would depend on infrastructure such as railway link to Lake Natron and the Mwambani port.
At a press conference last week, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, Minisre for Transport, told a handful reporters that government’s resolve to build the new Mwambani port remained unchanged.
“Wait for a little while (about six months) and you will see something done,” the minister assured the team, adding that the old port with low berth would still be operational, handling smaller ships.
The idea to revisit construction of a railway line from Tanga port to Musoma on the shores of Lake Victoria was conceived after Presidents Yoweri Museveni agreed on the need to speed up construction of the line at a meeting in Dar es Salaam in October last year
Reports have it that another port will be built on the shores of Lake Victoria on the Uganda side, From there, cargo will be shipped to Uganda.
According to government sources, the venture with regard to construction of the new port will facilitate revival of economic activities along the path, some of which collapsed after abandonment of the Tanga-Arusha stretch.
It is anticipated that the railway will not only be used to ferry agricultural produce for export but also oil, recently discovered at Lake Albert in Africa’s western Rift Valley.
Other countries expected to benefit from the giant project, owned by the governments of Tanzania and Uganda, are DRC, Rwanda and Burundi.