The Mozambican government has once again firmly rejected the demands from Malawi that the Zambezi and Shire rivers be used for commercial shipping and has withdrawn from a memorandum of understanding (Mou) it had committed.
According to a Reuters report, Mozambique’s senior Transport Ministry official Jafar Ruby retorted at a news conference in Maputo that the difficulties are not of Mozambique’s making, but are inherent to the Malawian project which was “neither viable nor sustainable in the short, medium and long term”.
Reuters reported that Mozambique had believed that the matter was definitively settled when a study carried out by an international consultancy company, Hydroplan, selected by the three countries potentially involved in the Shire-Zambezi project, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, found it was not viable.
The three countries had signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2007, but after the Hydroplan study Mozambique notified the Malawian and Zambian governments that it was withdrawing from the Memorandum with effects as from June 2016.
The study had shown that the Shire-Zambezi waterway “is not commercially navigable in its natural state, and under these conditions, the general objective of the proposed project – the reduction of transport costs in terms of time and money – cannot be achieved”.
But Malawi’s Minister of Transport Jappie Mhango has maintained that the waterway project, is “viable.”
Commentators, however, urge government to accept the situation and not continue to champion a project just for political expedediency.
Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) and Economics Associations of Malawi (Ecama) warned government to tread carefully on the project, saying it has the potential to backfire as it did in 2010.
The government is being asked to stop allocating money to a pet project of the Democratic Progressive Party and prioritise other key sectors.
The Shire-Zambezi waterway project was conceived by the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika. Although it had not secured Mozambican approval, Mutharika’s government even went as far as building the port at Nsanje at a cost of twenty million US dollars.
In October 2010 it held an inauguration ceremony attended by VIPs including President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The event was a huge embarrassment when the Mozambican authorities blocked fertiliser laden barges that were en route to Nsanje.
The whole scenario was bizarre as the Mozambican government had always been clear that its waterways can only be used after the correct steps have been taken, which include environment impact assessments.
At the time, the then president of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, explained that while he understood Malawi’s desire to use the two rivers for its trade, it could only happen after the viability and environmental studies. Those studies have now been made and they show that the project is not viable.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :