President Lazarus Chakwera says his administration will not prioritise the ambitious Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project, which sought to open landlocked Malawi to the sea and reduce transport costs for imports and exports.
The President made the bold response in Parliament when he was asked about his government’s plans on the signature project of Bingu wa Mutharika which has turned out to be a white elephant amid disagreements with neighbouring Mozambique over the feasibility of the project.
Ironically, for six years, the Peter Mutharika administration did not prioritise Bingu’s pet project despite Peter Mutharika pledging during the 2014 election campaign to revive it.
In his response, Chakwera said the focus of his administration had shifted to rehabilitate and revive the railway line to Beira in Mozambique through Nsanje He said talks were underway with Mozambique on the project.
Malawi relies on four main trade corridors, namely Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania, Beira and Nacala ports in Mozambique and Durban in South Africa.
The search for solutions to reduce the distance to the sea and costs has dominated Malawi’s foreign policy since independence in 1964, according to scholars.
Bingu wa Mutharika believed that using the route from Nsanje in Malawi to Chinde in Mozambique on the Zambezi River would reduce Malawi’s transport costs and boost economic growth. The distance from Nsanje to Chinde on the Indian Ocean coast is estimated at 213 kilometres (km), slightly shorter than that between Blantyre and Dedza which is about 220km.
Without support from Mozambique, the Bingu administration proceeded to build a multi-billion Nsanje World Inland Port and launched the project in the presence of presidents of Zimbabwe and Zambia. However, the trial barge to sail through the Zambezi and arrive at the ceremony to mark the project was impounded by Mozambican authorities.