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Southern Tanzania’s coal and gas-rich region which is part of the Mtwara Development Corridor is to see the construction of a new railway line from Mtwara to Mbamba-Bay. There are huge hopes that this new Chinese built railway – 40 years after TAZARA, will foster economic development in the region

For Emmanuel Kipande (82), a resident of Liuli village, Nyasa district in Ruvuma region, who has never travelled by a train in his entire life, the construction of a railway line linking Mtwara Port and the multi-billion shillings Mchuchuma-Liganga projects in Southern Tanzania could be news to him.

However, many people in the southern regions have been caught with bewilderment as to why all of a sudden things has changed while the area was more than abandoned for the past 52 years since Tanganyika became independent.

The government has planned to construct an 860km TShs. 2.4 trillion railway line from Mtwara to Mbamba-Bay with spurs to the mineral-rich district of Ludewa – particularly Mchuchuma and Liganga. The Mchuchuma mine has an estimated 540 million tons of coal deposits while iron ore deposits at Liganga are estimated at 45 million tons.

“A railway in the South? No one, even the national leaders who came from this part of the country that some people once tainted it as a god-forsaken-place, ever thought that it could have better roads, let alone the coming railway line construction. I pray to God to grant me more years so that I could at least border a train to Songea once in my life,” says Mr Kipande.

Sitting under his favorite tamarind tree outside his house reading a Bible, Mr Kipande who admits to have seen a train once at the Makambako TAZARA station in Njombe region during his middle ages, say that the current twist of development in the southern regions is because of the natural resources that have been discovered.

“We have seen wazungu (Europeans) come this way, some are said to be doing mineral and oil explorations even along Lake Nyasa while the Chinese have more than helped us construct roads. We can now easily travel to Mtwara by bus. But if they are building a railway line, then it could help foster development. We need better infrastructure, let them extract minerals which I even don’t know how to distinguish them from stones,” he says.

However, the construction of Mtwara-Mbamba Bay railway line reminds Mr Kipande of the stories of slave trade in the 19th Century as it will somehow be built along the same route that was used by a famous Arab slave trader, Jumbe Salim bin Abdullah who took caravans from Zambia and Malawi en-route to Kilwa and Zanzibar.

“My grandfather told me that Jumbe had his headquarters at Nkhotakota, a coastal city in Malawi along Lake Nyasa. After capturing slaves in Malawi and Zambia he shipped them across the lake via Mbamba Bay before walking all the way to Kilwa Kisiwani and other East African slave markets,” he says.

The Mtwara to Mbamba Bay railway construction comes almost 40 years after the completion of the 1,860km Tanzania and Zambia Railway (TAZARA - popularly known as the Uhuru Railway), a US$ 500 million turnkey project built by the Chinese linking Dar es Salaam and the city of New Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.

Reports from the Central Government say that the construction of Mtwara-Mbamba Bay-Mchuchuma railway is once again likely to feature the Chinese to help open up development opportunities in the Mtwara Development Corridor that consist of 8 regions that have a total population of 9,432,285 (21.6% of the country’s population), and also boost trade links with Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia by reducing prices in the regional transport market and improve economy to import and export their goods.

The oil and natural gas-rich area, Mtwara Development Corridor is a spatial development initiative (SDI) comprising southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique, northern and central Malawi, and eastern and northern Zambia. MDC is among 18 SDIs in the SADC region that aims at developing a transportation corridor that will provide these regions with easier access to the port at Mtwara, Tanzania, as well as other transit corridors within the focus areas of the project.

Malawi mainly depends on two rail links to the Indian Ocean ports – the 167 miles Trans-Zambezia Railway, from the south bank of the Zambezi to the main line from Beira to Zambia and a rail link to the Mozambique port of Nacala, so the proposed Mtwara Port-Mbamba Bay could be another link to the nation and the corridor as a whole.

The managing director of a state-run Reli Assets Holding Company (RAHCO), Eng. Bernhard Tito, was recently quoted by the local media as saying the company had floated tenders for potential investors to invest in the project via engineering, procurement, construction and financing whereas the tender bids were opened since June 21st, this year.

"Tender bids attracted 12 companies but we have only shortlisted 6 companies," Tito said without going into details on the shortlisted companies and where they come from.

The feasibility study for the railway project that, according to tender notice will cost TShs. 8 billion, is yet to be done and is organized and supervised by RAHCO lasting for one fiscal year (2013/2014) before validation of the economic viability o and some other proposed methodologies in the execution of the project.

“The railway line will attract passenger traffic because of the huge potential in mineral and agricultural activities in the region where development and growth are high but has been left behind since independence,” Tito told local media on September 18th, 2013, adding that the company has already shortlisted 10 consultancy firms out of the 22 that applied to carry on feasibility studies.

RAHCO is a state-run company that acquired the rail transport functions of the Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) and of its property, including chose-in action, rights and liabilities transferred to and provide rail infrastructure on behalf of the Government.

Other roles are, to develop, promote and to manage the rail infrastructure assets and to enter into agreements with other persons in order to secure the provision of rail transport services, whether by concession, joint venture, public-private partnership or other means.


The Chinese, who scooped the Mchuchuma coal and Liganga iron ore projects in Ludewa through their company Sichuan Hongda Corporation, are said to have made and an impact in the Mtwara Development Corridor especially in infrastructure development by successfully constructing a number of road and bridge projects and are still building a TShs. 1.86 trillion 532km long gas pipeline from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam and a new 300MW gas fired power plant at Mnazi Bay.

According to the Tanzania National Roads Agency (TANROADS) database, out of 126 road construction projects worth TSh4.3 trillion in Tanzania carried out by Chinese contractors, 13 are in the Mtwara Development Corridor including the 10.7km Unity Bridge linking Tanzania and Mozambique worth TShs. 24.55 billion that was constructed by China Geo Engineering which two years ago was among three companies that were blacklisted by the World Bank over a procurement bribery scandal in the Philippines.

A total of 783.8km finished and ongoing road construction projects worth TShs. 890.43 billion in Mtwara Corridor are under Chinese companies. These are the 75km Sumbawanga-Kanazi worth TShs. 78.841 billion under Jiangxi Geo-Eng; Kanazi-Kizi-Kibaoni (76.60km worth TShs. 82.842 billion) by CHCEG; Sumbawanga-Matai-Kasanga (112km worth TShs. 133.287 billion) constructed by CR15G; and the Tunduma-Ikana (63.2km worth TShs. 82.521 billion) by CCC.

Other projects are; Ikana-Laela (64.2km worth TShs. 76.076 billion) under China New Era; Mbeya-Lwanjilo-Chunya (72km worth TShs. 95.665 billion) by CCCC; Iringa-Dodoma (259.8km worth TShs. 222.155 billion) that is being constructed by SIETCO and CCCC; Nangurukuru-Mbwemkuru (95km worth TShs. 39.24 billion) constructed by CICO; and the 78km Peramiho-Mbinga road worth TShs. 79.803 billion that was constructed by Sinohydro.

But the railway construction in the south has inspired many people who say it will make the Mchuchuma-Liganga projects a success.

Enoch Ugulumu, head of Economic and Planning Department at the University of Iringa (formerly Tumaini University), says the projects can’t run without reliable infrastructure, a railway line being one of them.

“The rail line will not only help the Chinese-run projects at Mchuchuma and Liganga, but the whole southern part of Tanzania. Once production takes off the products will need be transported. We have the new Mbeya airport, but apart from roads that will be constructed, we need a rail line,” he says.

“This is very important for the development of the corridor’s potentials, we applause whatever development project that comes to our region and for me, the Chinese have done a wonderful job,” says Said Mwambungu, Ruvuma Regional Commissioner.

Mwambungu is hopeful that Chinese investment progress at Liganga and Mchuchuma will create employment opportunities for the locals and furthermore increase the country’s GDP and social benefits for the population in the Mtwara Development Corridor.


According to the Tanzania Mineral Audit Agency (TMAA), Mtwara Development Corridor hosts sizeable mineral deposits and a number of foreign companies are doing explorations and some have acquired extracting licenses on various plots, particularly in Ruvuma region.

In the Selous Game Reserve, the World Heritage Site, building of the Mkuju River uranium mine in Namtumbo district has started this year under Uranium One which is controlled by Rosatom's Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ) of Russia and has received a mining license from Tanzania’s Ministry of Energy and Minerals since April 2013.

Uranium One CEO Chris Sattler said on 21st June, 2011 that production levels will likely be somewhere between 1,900 and 2,700 tons per annum. The project could produce an average of 1,600 tons a year of yellowcake, at costs of TShs. 34,545/lb, according to a May 2011 feasibility study done by Mantra Resources of Australia, thus making Tanzania the third biggest producer of the commodity in Africa.

When opening the new offices of the Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission in Arusha on 7th May, 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete said Tanzania was eyeing the world's biggest uranium producer slot. "If all the reserves we have are fully exploited, Tanzania can become the seventh leading uranium producers in the world," said Kikwete. Tanzania has at least 20,769 tons of uranium oxide deposits.

TMAA's Planning and Research Development Manager, Julius Moshi, says uranium prospection and exploration in Tanzania is being performed by Uranex NL, Sabre Resources Ltd, Omegacorp Ltd and Mantra Resources Ltd all from Australia, UK’s Uranium Resources plc, Indago Resources Ltd, Uranium Hunter Corporation, Trimark Explorations Ltd.

Others are IBI Corporation (Canada), Gambaro Resources, Douglas Lake Minerals Inc., Canaco Resources Inc., Sub-Sahara Resources NL, East Africa Resources Ltd, Tanganyika Uranium Corp., Troll Mining Ltd, Jacana Resources Ltd, Globe Metals & Mining Ltd, Atomic Minerals Ltd, Universal Power Corp.

On Sep. 26, 2013, East Africa Resources Ltd announced that it had obtained Prospecting Licenses for its Madaba property, located within the World Heritage Selous Game Reserve, where work carried out between 1979-1982 by Uranerzbergbau GmbH identified six anomalous uranium zones.

Other probable roll front uranium deposits in the area are located on the shores of Lake Nyasa and extends into the Ruhuhu River Basin and the Kayelekera roll front deposit and Canada’s IBI Corporation has shown interest to carry out explorations on the Ruhuhu basin, according to its website.

Reports from the state run National Development Corporation (NDC) that entered a joint venture with China’s Sichuan Hongda Group (SHC) on the Mchuchuma-Liganga mining projects, show that Ngaka coal field in Mbinga district which is situated in the southern part of the Ruhuhu depression, just 32km south-east of Mchuchuma-Katewaka coal field, has a proven reserve of 97.7 million tons and 200 million tons of inferred reserve while the annual turnover is estimated to be at TShs. 5.3 billion.

According to the data from NDC that were made available to this reporter, there are coalfields at Mbamba Bay located on the shores of Lake Nyasa across from Nkhata Bay in Malawi with a total reserve of 29 million tons. The project with proven deposits of 2.4 million tons would be ideal as a small-scale mining operation of some 75,000 metric tons per year thus generating an annual turnover of TShs. 4.2 billion.

The data confirm that there is also a coal project at Namwele-Nkomolo in Sumbawanga District, Rukwa Region with 1.5 million tons of proven coal reserve and inferred reserve of 17.2 million tons that is estimated to have an annual turnover of TShs. 19.8 billion. The exploration work was done by Edenville Energy which also did at the Muze deposits.

“The proposed Muze coal to electricity project on the floor of Lake Rukwa has a 3.41 million proven coal reserve and inferred reserve of 56.59 million tons that is expected to generate 300MW. The annual turnover is estimated at TShs. 188.4 billion,” the data shows.

However, an open cast mine, crushing and processing plant to produce 10,000 metric tons a year of agricultural lime is to be built in Songea following the lime deposits found in the district where it is estimated to have an annual turnover of TShs. 16.5 billion. Another lime plant is to be built in Mtwara region that will produce the same amount.

There is the Cement and Gypsum Board project in Lindi that involves mining and beneficiation of gypsum rock and setting up a gypsum processing plant based on gypsum deposits (CaSO4.2H2O) estimated at 5 million tons at Mbaru and Pindiro in Kilwa District, Lindi Region with the estimation of annual turnover of TShs. 31.4 billion.

The data show that there is also the rare earth minerals project in Nkasi district, Rukwa region whose products have a specialized market in IT, TV, Satellite and communications as well as in sophisticated military defense projects like missiles systems. The estimated annual turnover of this project is between TShs. 47.1 – 62.8 billion.

*Daniel Mbega

This piece was previously published in ‘The Citizen’ newspaper of Tanzania and was supported by Forum for African Investigative Reporters and WITS China-Africa


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