Vandals hit Nsanje port

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika’s colourful Nsanje World Inland Port dream may fade away as some locals and namasupuni slowly, but surely, cannibalise the structure, now standing derelict amid so much promise.

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Inaugurated on October 23 2010 with pomp, glitz and fanfare, the great dream that had the promise of reality is stuck in doldrums: entangled in funding woes, geopolitics, security lapses, fuel shortages and the foreign currency drama.

Last-minute glitches and organisational malfunctions during the launch may have been a harbinger of the project’s uncertain future and its status today.

On that extremely sunny day, as Mutharika and his special guests—Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and then Zambia president Rupiah Banda—waited to triumphantly show the world the initiative’s viability, a demo-barge that was stage-managed to achieve the final dramatic effect failed to turn up at the appointed time after Mozambican authorities detained it. The Mozambicans argued that  Malawians did not process the barge’s clearance to navigate through their waters.

 

Vandalism

Fourteen months after that embarrassing inauguration of the unfinished project that could not even float in a barge, the initiative is in a shambles. Locals, not seeing the immediate use for the facility, are literally dismantling it bolt by bolt, metal by metal, wire by wire and concrete by concrete.

A visit to the designated port and future city last month revealed serious cases of vandalism on the property.

The bolts that hold the anchor, a device normally made of metal used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent it from drifting due to wind or current, are being unscrewed.

Some anchors, instead of having the original six bolts, now have three. This has left the anchors vulnerable to theft as well.

“People are melting the bolts and making spoons and pots from it,” said one local who fishes at the dock.

But it is not just bolts and nuts that are being uprooted. The web of wires holding stones that keep the side ground from hill shading have been loosened and the best parts  stolen.

Maintenance of the facility also seems reduced to near zero.

When the port was launched, the waters were clean and the entire surrounding was neat and tidy.

Today, the waters are green and dark, blanketed by an army of water hyacinth (namasupuni), which has spread its rule over the surface of the waters. Grass has also grown all over the area, turning it into a bushy island on a besieged river.

Even the quay area, which is the space between the water and the first public road behind the water, no longer has the aura of a future business hub as was initially envisaged.

 

Future uncertain

Some locals say they are uncertain about the future of the dream they hoped would realistically change their district, one of Malawi’s poorest, according to official studies.

“I had a great sense of hope and optimism when the project was launched. Coupled with nice roads that have changed the face of the district, Nsanje was full of smiles. Now, we are at a crossroads. We are still hopeful, but at the same time, we can also smell deep disappointment, especially with so little progress so far,” said Robert Kachitaya, a Nsanje Boma resident found fishing at the dock.

 

Source of problems

Economic problems in Malawi and geopolitical problems with Mozambique have greatly contributed to the project’s reversal of fortunes.

Mozambique’s position is that Malawi’s desire to use the Shire and Zambezi rivers for navigation to the Indian Ocean should be conditioned on a comprehensive feasibility study and proper treaties drawn between the two countries.

“You do not send ships along the territorial waters of another country without having very clear norms which indicate exactly what procedures must be followed. We are open and we are going to work on the matter,” Mozambique president Armando Guebuza said at a bilateral economic summit between Mozambique and South Africa on November 2010.

But he said: “In this whole case, economic viability cannot be imposed, not even as a joke. A study should be made with our agreement. After this, we shall see what position to take.”

In June 2011, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved $3.5 million (about K585 million) for the implementation of a comprehensive feasibility study on the Shire-Zambezi Waterway. It was expected to begin early this year.

 

What’s next?

In an interview a fortnight ago, Transport and Public Infrastructure Minister Muhamad Sidik Mia said he could not comment on the port’s situation because he was not in the office. The Nation wanted to find out what government is doing to protect, fund and complete the project.

After the holidays, when contacted again on Tuesday, January 10 2011, Mia said: “Wait for updates, we will inform you” and cut the line.

Victor Lungu, director of transport planning in the Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure, referred The Nation to Moffat Chitimbe of the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC).

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure Radson Mwadiwa also referred The Nation to Chitimbe.

Chitimbe, who said was on Christmas holiday, asked for a written questionnaire, which was sent two weeks ago.

His phone could not be reached after several attempts.

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NSANJE PORT FACTS

  • The Nsanje World Inland Port was inaugurated on October 23 2010 during a function shunned by Mozambique’s president Armando Guebuza, but attended by Zimbabwe ’s Robert Mugabe and  then Zambian president Rupiah Banda.
  • Mozambique holds the key to the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project success and Guebuza says he is open to dialogue, but insists the project can only take off after a feasibility study.

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