- and the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) have been contracted\ by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) of Zimbabwe to transport 17,000 metric tonnes of maize from Tanzania.
This is of course good news for maize farmers and traders in Tanzania. What is problematic however is the way the transport is going to be organized.
To grasp the problem with that arrangement, it is not enough to look at what the deal stipulates on the transportation of the maize cargo, but in comparing with ‘best practices’ elsewhere, or more appropriately, suited to the whole quest for globalization.
The concept, like the Belt and Road idea, is to ease the way business is done so that regulations are observed without national boundaries being a stumbling block, by having common standards. In that case, the three countries ought to have a ‘belt and railway’ working right now.
On the basis of the agreement, TAZARA will load the consignment from Makambako in Njombe Region and Vwawa in Songwe Region destined to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.
It would then relay it to ZRL at New Kapiri Mposhi who would in turn pass it to NRZ at Livingstone, for final delivery to various destinations in Zimbabwe. The entire tonnage is expected to be transported within three months, starting early next week, the TAZARA management said.
This method of conducting transit trade has always been the butt of problems in economic integration in East Africa for that matter, as it proved impossible in the 1070s for overweight Kenyan lorries to use the still skimpy Tanzanian highways without overly excessive cost to the taxpayer.
The other side would of course see such hindrance as a lack of goodwill, but surprisingly Kenya offered transport facilities for Lake Victoria passenger ship to be assembled in Mwanza, but judged too heavy by road transport regulators. Kenya allowed it.
The TAZARA CEO said for instance that to move the consignment timely, TAZARA had allocated 100 wagons while the other two railways had also allocated another 100 wagons.
That means 300 wagons are put on standby for the better part of three months, whereas the original 100 wagons in which the cargo is loaded could have sufficed, if the railway is of same gauge.
If not, it could have done the trip to half of the way and a different gauge lining of wagons take up from there. The issue wouldn’t be the companies but gauges.
Equally revealing was the fact that this is an agreement that brings together state actors in the three SADC member countries, the maize boards and railway corporations, more or less locking out the private sector.
Were it that the issue was simply to transport the maize to Zimbabwe, a company could have hired wagons and obtained clearance to ferry the cargo, with a proviso for instance to change to a railway with a different gauge if the need arises (where TAZARA joins another railway system that has reach to Bulawayo).
Handing over would largely be avoided, and it is unavoidable that plenty of inspection, transaction costs are involved, which give public agencies work to do but hinder efficiency.