Tanga port could be much more than an oil gateway

03Jan 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Tanga port could be much more than an oil gateway

NEW efforts are being reported among senior Ugandan government officials mulling a broader use of Tanga port for handling goods destined to the country, to reduce its dependency on Kenya’s Mombasa port.

There are all sorts of things involved, but officials talked about reducing costs by up to 30 per cent and perhaps 40 per cent, which is remarkable if it is factually so.

Of course, there are things like currency values and depreciation where the Tanzanian currency ordinarily loses value to the dollar faster than the Kenyan shilling and the Ugandan shilling has been somewhat stable as well, thus preferring a different channel.

Even the construction of an oil pipeline that has been in vogue since 2011 and has been seriously addressed at top level from 2016 comes down to nearly the same thing – that its cost via Kenya towards Lamu is way higher than via Tanzania, taking into account not just exchange rates but land regimes and compensation.

The fact that this project is not moving fast enough, as the key oil companies are yet to commit money to the project, shows that these considerations are constantly at work. So Tanga port is a new feature in the competition for sourcing of services and direction of investments among major East African economies.

What is not particularly encouraging about this feature, and it is even more appropriate that this is reflected upon in a New Year, is that Tanga port used to be an industrial port and forward-looking gateway to the interior, until the radical changes in Tanzania in 1967.

It was the moment that sisal farms were nationalised and the sub-sector started going downhill, partly because synthetics were also coming up and sisal could be replaced by new materials.

The restoration of private operation of sisal farms did not return the other aspects of a dynamic economy, and sisal isn’t much different from cotton or coffee in its economic or earning prospects.

In the intervening period, the formative industrial environment so much declined that one photograph of the railway from Tanga to Moshi showed a tree standing in the middle of the rails and reaching some disconcerting height.

That would show how intensely the railway was in disuse, and it has never been officially stated that it has been put out of use. And on account of relying rather too heavily on aid, there were for years few plans to hand it over to the private sector for revamping into full use.

Now the construction of the railway is in the pipeline again, but without public-private partnership as yet. The sad aspect about the Tanga line and the hinterland is that the zone up to Arusha and Musoma stands as some replica of the zone that constitutes the mainstream Kenyan economy, with Arusha the proper equivalent of Nairobi, and Tanga of Mombasa.

The central highlands in Kenya compare with Tanzania’s Usambara ranges, while Kenya’s western farming hinterland compares with Kilimanjaro, Arusha and the Mara/Manyara grazing areas and tourist outlying sphere. Lost opportunities, could be?


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