Bigger international vessels are now able to dock at one of the upgraded berths
A quiet battle for the shipping business is under way in East Africa, with Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia taking lead in upgrading their maritime infrastructure in the region.
As the African continent glides on the waves of globalization, the modernization of its seaports is key to the development of maritime infrastructure and its connectivity with inland transport systems.
Undoubtedly, seaports play a vital role in any economy that is reliant on imports and exports, especially in developing countries where maritime transport is the primary form of access to the international market and a key contributor to local job creation.
According to a recent World Bank report, inefficiencies at the main port of entry cost Tanzania and neighboring countries up to $2.8 billion in lost revenues annually, and as a result, this had a negative impact on regional trade, especially among land-locked countries such as Zambia that look up to one of Africa's reliable seaports – the Port of Dar es Salaam - as a gateway for international trade.
One of the re-built facilities at the port is already commissioned
A shipping hub
Currently, it is estimated that over 70 percent of imported goods for land-locked nations in the sub-region transit through the Port of Dar es Salaam via Tunduma-Nakonde Border Post, which is Tanzania's busiest crossing point, the gateway into Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and, to some extent, Zimbabwe. On average, the value of cargo passing through the border to Zambia, the DRC and Zimbabwe is estimated to be to the tune of $1.5 billion annually, according to trade experts.
With its strategic location as a freight link not only to east and central African countries but also to the Middle and Far East, Europe, Australia and Americas, the Port of Dar es Salaam has a total quay length of about 2,600 meters with 11 deep-water berths, handles about 95 percent of the country's international trade and serves neighboring land-locked countries like Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, among others, according to the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA).
For this reason, the Dar es Salaam Maritime Gateway Project, worth $421 million, was established in a bid to overhaul the Port of Dar es Salaam's infrastructure by 2023.
In the 1970s, China was already involved in the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway linking Tanzania and Zambia and, in this context, the ongoing upgrade of the Port of Dar es Salaam is another game changer in the intercontinental connectivity initiative, as China's past approach to partnership on infrastructure development in Africa has continued to shape the continent's socio-economic trajectory.
With Zambia's import-driven economy set to benefit a lot from the upgrade of the Port of Dar es Salaam, the move has excited local entrepreneurs as the facility contributes greatly to the southern African country's treasury in terms of taxes and customs duty.
"The port's closer proximity to Nakonde border is key to the survival of our automobile business. The ongoing facelift will definitely speed up customs clearance and in turn lower the cost of doing business for us," Car Dealers Association of Zambia Chairperson Webster Mulambia told ChinAfrica.
Mulambia regrets that a long queue of offloading ships is painful for most importers and exporters of cargo who seek to have it delivered to their respective destinations on time.
Just like car dealers, many Zambian shop owners who sell daily goods such as diapers, powdered milk, clothes, sanitary products, as well as medicines and medical supplies share the lament that delays extend for several weeks or months due to container vessels transporting imported cargo from across the world were on average queuing for 10 days to be able to berth at the port. It further takes another 10 days to offload the merchandise, clear it and transport it.
"My merchandise takes two months to be delivered and this affects my cash flow due to the usual delays at the port, and you know in business, time is money," Reagan Nkamba, 45, a trader of Chinese smartphones, stated.
The Port of Dar es Salaam upgrade is in final stages of completion
Thanks to China Harbour Engineering Co. (CHEC) whose global engineering strength is equipping the Port of Dar es Salaam with modern apparatus, the maritime facility will have the capacity to accommodate large vessels from across the world and be able to anchor at Tanzania's largest seaport.
As CHEC is taking on the first World Bank project in a decade, engineers say it is a momentous step forward for the Chinese engineering firm, and that the project will enhance the company's level of operations and expertise in East Africa.
"This project mainly involves the upgrade of seven existing berths and the building of a new berth that will enable large vessels with a load carrying capacity of up to 70,000 tons to dock at the port, which previously had a capacity for under 30,000 tons," TPA Director General Eric Hamissi recently said.
The port authority further affirmed that with a length of 300 meters and 13.5-meter depth, the new berth will be equipped with state-of-the-art cargo handling equipment.
Ruth Chinyimba, 40, a spare parts dealer based at Lusaka's bustling town center market, said, "The ongoing upgrade of the port will definitely help grow my client base as my customs clearance will be done with ease."
Chinyimba, who owns Ruth-Auto shop, added that due to high demand of spare parts in the local market, her business will see growth with a more efficient maritime facility in the region.
Tanzania's Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa recently noted that the Port of Dar es Salaam upgrade is in final stages of completion as the East African country is focused on making optimal use of its strategic geographical location to enhance regional trade, stimulate economic growth and ease transportation costs.
"These projects will enable the nation to make the most of the geographical opportunities we have as well as stimulate economic growth and facilitate transportation," said the prime minister while tabling in parliament his office's budget proposals for the 2021/22 financial year.
In line with China's Belt and Road Initiative, a multifaceted and connectivity-oriented grand strategy, the port upgrade will certainly serve Africa's current regional infrastructure challenges which are primarily inward-looking as they seek to deepen the continent's regional integration.
The project is supported by the Tanzanian Government and a coalition of development partners which includes the TradeMark East Africa, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, and the World Bank.
On March 1, Tanzania's Works and Transport Minister Leonard Chamuriho officiated the handover ceremony of Berth No. 5 held for the No. 1-7 Berth Project at the Port of Dar es Salaam.
Chamuriho said the completion of berth No. 5 marked the official entry of the project into the final sprint stage, adding that the smooth completion of the berth laid a solid foundation for its full completion and the smooth development of subsequent projects.
"We recognize the achievements of the project in terms of safety, quality and management and the company's outstanding performance capabilities," Chamuriho said, expressing gratitude to the Chinese engineering firm for its efforts in the construction of Tanzania's mega port.
(Print Edition Title: Gateway to Global Trade)
Reporting from Zambia
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