Two railway lines in Africa comprising regional and national systems will soon be up for business, linking countries from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the west right to those of the Indian Ocean to the east.
One runs from Dar es Salaam via Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia to Matadi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, comprising the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) and Zambia Railways Limited and Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer du Congo (SNCC).
The other runs from the same East African port of Dar es Salaam through Zambia and on to Lobito in Angola, involving the former two railway systems and Benguela Railway.
The political situation in Angola has stabilised while that in the DR Congo is gradually calming down.
Going by this scenario and the business projections being put in place by these railway systems managements, the eastern and central African region is ripe for big business in a move to spur more continental integration.
Only last week Tazara and ZRS sealed a pact meant to enhance cooperation between the two railways.
The Tazara management says that, under the deal, the two will define and map out how best they can smoothen and expand railway transportation to facilitate trade and development in the region.
Once the two rail agencies get down to serious business, railway transport between Tanzania and Zambia is expected to improve appreciably.
The two railway agencies are also set to bring on board DR Congo’s SNCC, thus linking the Indian and Atlantic oceans via this central African frontiers.
Once this is done, rail economy analysts say, the Tazara market share on the Dar es Salaam-Lubumbashi corridor would increase from the current 10 per cent to 40 per cent.
In the Congo, the two railway agencies intend to tap the country’s 3,641km patched railway system in a move that would jack up the transportation system in this otherwise dormant part of the continent.
Meanwhile, Angola is reviving its 1,344km-long Benguela Railway spanning from the Atlantic port of Lobito to Zambia where it joins the ZRS.
Given the two separate grand programmes, it would soon be very easy, not only for passengers, but also for goods to be transported from either coasts of Africa the rail on this southern frontier.
However, the link between Zambia and Angola through Benguela Railway does not end in the latter country, for it is also linked to Namibia and South Africa. Here is therefore another rail frontier to the southern part of the continent via the western corridor.
We commend the respective governments and investors for the efforts being taken to open up this economically crucial zone by railway.
We believe that this work has been facilitated by the prevalence of relatively sustainable peace and genuine advancement in investments.
Opening the Benguela Railway recently, Angolan President Jose Dos Santos said the railways would permit a railway integration platform with SADC countries through the connection of railway firms in DR Congo, Zambia and Namibia and – now – Tazara.
Our humble advice is that Tanzanian businesses should grab the investment and trade opportunities offered by these new frontiers in the western and southern parts of the continent.