Dar es Salaam Port found itself making a lucky strike over Kenya’s Mombasa port when the United Nations World Food Programme chose it to handle its shipments of relief supplies to landlocked countries in the region.
It is a welcome development that brings opportunities and poses challenges that stakeholders must tackle seriously.
This is especially important, bearing in mind that at one time Dar es Salaam Port was going down rapidly, plagued by inefficiencies due to worn down equipment and thefts, all blamed on poor management.
The WFP will now clear through the port consignments of food destined for East and Central African countries, with reports that a WFP ship with a food consignment of 10,000 tonnes would be docking at the port after every two weeks.
The agency would be using the port to transport the cargo to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Zambia as well.
The WFP team led by its Executive Director Ertharin Cousin visited the port last week to assess operations and was apparently satisfied with the situation.
Indeed more agents are moving to clear their goods through Dar es Salaam in the run-up to the Kenyan polls next month.
But many are not moving exclusively due to the Kenyan election situation. They are looking into how they can maximise on the efficiency seen to be coming to Dar. And this is what authorities must build on.
We see the developments as a rare opportunity to improve not only the port, but also our rail systems to handle the bigger load to and from the landlocked countries, resulting from the agents’ return to the port.
We are also conscious of the challenges that the port has been grappling with in the form of limited capacity and worn down infrastructure, corruption and poor security.
For despite its strategic location that would have it as the gateway for goods to and from landlocked countries of East and Central Africa, according to TPA, Dar Port handles only 30 percent of the total transit cargo traffic. The rest goes to competitors and this has been blamed on poor railway infrastructure from the port to the hinterland.
Seeing the systematic way the Minister of Transport, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe is working to revive the port and rail transport, gives us confidence that we will see in the not too distant future, Dar port assuming its deserved position of being a major revenue source for the nation.
His firm but focused reorganisation of the port operations has already improved efficiency and greatly boosted security.
The government has also shown seriousness in exploiting Dar’s strategic position by setting aside a budget of 150bn/- next financial year, to improve the central railway line in order to facilitate cargo haulage to especially the landlocked countries.
What must always be borne in mind is that besides serving the growing national economy, Dar port must monitor closely what goes on in the economies of our neighbours and act quickly to keep its advantage as their most reliable gateway to the world.