Mugabe wades into Malawi-Mozambique waterway project dispute

MAPUTO – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe Saturday issued a veiled attack on Mozambique for frustrating efforts by Malawian authorities to launch an inland waterway project to the Indian Ocean.\r\n

Authorities in Mozambique during the week impounded a barge carrying 60 metric t onnes of fertiliser meant for the inaugural ceremony of Nsanje World Inland Port , the main component of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s pet project – the Shire-Za m bezi Waterway.

Maputo said as far as it is concerned, the Zambezi – which is in Mozambique – was still not navigatable for large barges and ships until a comprehensive feasibility study proves otherwise.

Despite being invited to the launch, Mozambican President Armando Ghebuza did not attend and economists said Mozambique – which has two busy ports of Beira and Maputo – has not bought into the Malawi project because – if it succeeds – it sta n ds to lose on levies and port taxes.

However, speaking in Malawi’s southernmost port district of Nsanje at the launching ceremony of the waterway, Mugabe – without fingering any country – urged Southern African countries to look at the project "as our own and facilitate it together.

"Let us not only accept it as ours but enable it to function and not stand in it s way," he said amid cheers, stressing "we would look at ourselves as negative  ements if we obstruct a project of this nature."

Mutharika, the host, however, chose to be a little diplomatic as he thanked Pres ident Armando Ghebuza of Mozambique "for his continued support for the project".

The Malawi leader downplayed the impounded barge incident, calling it a minor te chnical glitch.

"We should have received a barge containing at least 60 metric tonnes of fertili ser destined for Malawi but we have not been able to complete the clearance with the government of Mozambique, so the boat (sic) is somewhere not far away from h e re and I am very confident that very soon once we clear that we should be able t o see the boat (sic) with our cargo." Mutharika said he was motivated to construct the port because Malawi has one of the highest import and export transport costs in Africa.

"This of course is the price we pay for being land-locked," he said, adding that "it is therefore Malawi’s desire to turn the Nsanje Port into a modern world in l and port on the same basis as the Hamburg Inland Port in Germany so that we can s erve not only Malawi but parts of Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, southern parts o f Tanzania and indeed beyond…perhaps Rwanda and Burundi, even the Democratic Re p ublic of Congo."Mutharika therefore described the waterway as a regional project, noting that as part of the waterway, his government will rehabilitate the rail link with Mozam b ique and construct a new one to facilitate high-speed trains to Harare.

Also at the inaugural ceremony was Zambian President Rupiah Banda, who described the launch as a "fantastic dream come true".

"This port is not only important to the people of Malawi but important to all of us," Banda said, asserting that "I’m so pleased to celebrate the opening up of o ur countries, to celebrate our dreams for lowering the cost of living and theref o re uplifting the lives of our people." Economists said when fully operational, the Shire-Zambezi Waterway will cut down transport cost of Malawi imports by as much as 60 per cent.The backwater southernmost district of Nsanje may soon also turn into a port cit y and already businessmen are scrambling for land in the district in anticipatio n of economic boom.