Mutharika’S port blues

Maputo is not interested in discussing the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project with Lilongwe, a senior Mozambique government official has said.

The declaration—made by the Head of the Department of Bilateral Cooperation in Mozambique’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, Horácio Parquinio—is a slap in President Peter Mutharika’s face who on September 8 this year said “we are waiting for our friends in Mozambique,” for Malawi to proceed with the project.

But if what Parquinio said as quoted by www.jornalnoticias.co.mz yesterday is anything to go by, Mutharika may just have embarked on an infinite waiting project.

The port has turned into a white elephant

Responding to Mozambique’s media inquiry following Mutharika’s pronouncement, Parquinio said that in the recent past, in-depth environmental and feasibility studies have been carried out that did not recommend the navigability of the Zambezi River.

“At a recent meeting on the Nacala Corridor project, they [Malawi delegation] wanted to bring the issue of the port of Nsanje to the table and we, the Mozambican delegation, made it clear that this was no longer a matter for discussion and the issue was taken off the agenda,” he recalled.

Parquinio said there were no further negotiations between the two countries on the initiative that Lilongwe believes can save up to $175 million in transportation costs for Malawi.

In a separate interview yesterday, Principal Secretary in Malawi’s Ministry of Transport Francis Chinsinga conceded that there have not been direct government-to-government talks on the matter in recent times.

He, however, said there are indirect talks between the two countries through the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

“Discussions started long time ago and we are currently using two forums, Sadc and Comesa,” he said.

Chinsinga said the two countries are using the two groupings because they helped to fund the feasibility study of the Nsanje Inland Port Project.

The port is meant to link Nsanje and Chinde in Mozambique through Shire and Zambezi rivers.

President Bingu wa Mutharika conceived the project and managed to rally Sadc and Comesa around it on grounds that it would provide a cheaper and more reliable alternative route to sea ports on the coast of the Indian Ocean.

Ideally, this should have been a tripartite project with Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique promised to benefit from its socio-economic development spin-offs.

But while Zambia showed eagerness to jump into the multilateral collaboration, Mozambique was always a reluctant suitor.

Thus, when Bingu launched the project on October 23 2010 in Nsanje, former Zambian president Rupiah Banda attended alongside Zimbabwean leader at the time, the late Robert Mugabe.

Conspicuously missing was then president Armando Guebuza of Mozambique.

Since then, the port has been the source of diplomatic skirmishes between Malawi and Mozambique, which envelops Malawi to the south, southwest and southeast.

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