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Interview with Akashambatwa Lewanika Managing Director of TAZARA

TANZANIAINVEST has been interviewing Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika, newly appointed Managing Director of TAZARA, the Tanzania-Zambia railway, tabo learn about the company’s current situation, its development strategy and the role of the line in the development of trade in the region.

Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika  Managing Director of TAZARA

TI: You have very recently been appointed at the head a rail line paramount for trade and economic development of the country, but with a controversial history. How do you feel undertaking such challenging task?

AL: I am very excited and very confident because as you may know this project was extremely important to Tanzania and to Zambia.

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At the time the project of a railway linking Tanzania and Zambia was proposed, orthodox economic thinking was that it was not an economic venture as there was not enough economic activity to justify the project.

But it is now quite obvious that such assumption has been disproved over the years and that the economic demand for Tazara is higher than ever imagined and it is way above the its current capacity.

Right now we are in a situation where both the import and export cargo are crying out for Tazara to increase its capacity and to operate more efficiently, to the benefit not only of Tanzania and Zambia, but also Congo, Burundi, Malawi and other countries in eastern and southern Africa.

Now I am confident that given the political will of the Tanzania and the Zambian governments and the Chinese government, Tazara has been given a chance to move significantly towards achieving its original mandate.

TI: Which are the main issues to tackle to ensure the success of Tazara and what is your strategy to overcome them?

AL: The most immediate challenge of Tazara has to do with the locomotives power and the capacity of wagons and the need for efficiency of running the line on time.

There is great deficiency in the number of locomotive and the number of wagons that we have.

Even in the present stage of the infrastructure of Tazara, if we simply had more locomotive and wagons and power we would be able to do significantly more and to satisfy our customers better.

While we are very grateful to the Chinese government and eagerly anticipating the infusion of the assistance related to the 14th protocol which has just been signed we are focusing our minds to do the best with what we have.

Accordingly our workshops are working day and night to ensure that we have a minimum number of locomotives at least operating so that on a good day we have 14 locomotives operating.

In addition to that, because of the backlog of indebtedness and the low capacity utilization it means we are faced with serious liquidity problems by which we are unable to finance the day-to-day operations of the company.

So as newly appointed Managing Director I am really pushing to ensure that whatever revenues we have are directed towards those areas of expenditure that more greatly assure the locomotive capacity and the number of wagons so that we can increase our revenues.

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Of late the revenue achievements of Tazara at best have been averaging 3 million USD per month which still is not sufficient to comfortably cover the day-to-day operations costs.

So our immediate task is to see if we can raise our monthly revenues to at least 5 million USD.

TI: What makes rail transportation so crucial in Tanzania and in the region for trade development?

AL: The economic activity of Tanzania, Zambia and the sub region right now is more than our transport infrastructure capacity, being this air, maritime, road or railways, so there is need for the entire transport sector to be further developed and to complement each other.

On the other hand the railway transport has an advantage as it wiser to use it in certain exports and imports.

For instance whatever gains we are having in fixing our roads, this is being destroyed by transporting on roads bulk equipment like copper.

So if the railway reaches its desired capacity it does not really take away what is needed on the road network but it is providing an opportunity for the road network to only deal with the type of transport that damages roads less.

Otherwise the vision for the entire transport sector is to complement each other {xtypo_quote_right}the vision for the entire transport sector is to complement each other{/xtypo_quote_right} for instance we envisage that there will be need for a railway track of about 170 km joining Mpulungu in the south of lake Tanganika to Tazara which will be able to offload goods that are going by lake to or from Burundi towards the south or towards Dar es Salaam.

So in planning our transport infrastructure we have to plan in all sub-sectors.

TI: What is the role of Tazara in the regional development?

AL: Tazara is not only very centrally located as it links Tanzania to Zambia but it also links to the Zambian railways system which links to the Congolese railway system which in turn is linked to the Angolan railway system.

So we anticipate good prospects for the future for a continuous railway link from the Atlantic Ocean in Angola to the Indian Ocean in Dar es Salaam.

The linkage with Zambia also link with Durban and Cape Town in South Africa and there is also the possibility in the future to link this railways network to Namibia as well and we believe that the railway system could complement the road infrastructure and particularly for certain goods, such as mining products that are not suitable and very economically viable for road and air transport.

So we think Tazara holds great prospects of being a crucial facilitator of enhanced and more mutually beneficial involvement of Africa in the global trade{xtypo_quote_left}Tazara holds great prospects of being a crucial facilitator of enhanced and more mutually beneficial involvement of Africa in the global trade{/xtypo_quote_left}.

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TI: Will the China loan you referred to in the 14th protocol be enough to put Tazara back on track?

AL: If everything that has been agreed was to be implemented and materialised at the same time in the near future, then we would be operating to a capacity that Tazara has never before been able to achieve.

So the concern is that the loan is too spaced out whereby we would be reaching the undesirable situation of not optimising the use of our assets and hence our capacity.

We need to operate with a minimal number of wagons been serviced at the same time so yes this is a major intervention which holds great potential to rehabilitate Tazara and enhancing its operations.

TI: Minister Kawambwa has highly evaluated China‘s contribution to the infrastructure development in Tanzania.  What is your vision on the new role of China in Tanzania’s infrastructure development as opposed to support from traditional western donors?

AL: In first place our relationship with China has quite correctly always been described as friendship which means it has always gone beyond pure commercial relations.

This attitude has been there through the history of Tazara and is still needed for the future so we welcome that.

Not only that but now some of the businesses demanding Tazara services actually come from China so our railway being a pathway and facilitator of trade between China and Africa is now actually a reality.

So in essence enhancing the capacity and the efficiency of Tazara is actually removing a major bottleneck to failed expansion of China-Tanzania, ChinaZambia and China-Africa trade interaction.

TI: What is your opinion on the new South-South development cooperation model undertaken with China?

AL: Whatever economic and trade relations we have with China they have always gone beyond economic consideration but it is quite obvious they have positive economic implications anyway.

The world now admires China because if its impressing development and it represents an inspiring example for us.

TI: What is your message to the Chinese government official and businessmen looking at Tanzania?

AL: If our message to the western world is that we prefer trade than aid, our message for China is that we want to go beyond trade and to investment now so that the good that we are exporting are valued added here, trough investments.

Even at this moment there are Chinese companies in Tanzania and Zambia which are eager for Tazara to raise its capacity so that they can export goods to China which are made in here.

the vision for the entire transport sector is to complement each other
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