Once hailed as one of the modern age’s most groundbreaking railway development, the TAZARA railway linking the Tanzanian port city of Dar es Salaam with Zambia, has poor management, poor maintenance, corruption, and other inefficiencies over the past decades, impacting heavily on the company.
Built by the Chinese government as a gift to both Tanzania and of course to support the Southern African liberation struggle, which saw Zambia at the time cut off from their regular import and export route via South African ports, hopes were initially high that the railway line could spur complimentary developments along the route. After a brief transition period, when the Chinese managed operations, the company was then handed over to both Zambia and Tanzania to be run by a locally-appointed team. Small trading posts which existed 40 years ago have since then grown into towns and municipalities, but the big breakthrough of economic prosperity along the rail line never happened.
Struggling with funding from the two governments, and saddled with managers often seen as not up to their task, an agreement has apparently been reached in tripartite discussions that China assume the management of the railway while ensuring that line maintenance and maintenance of locomotives and rolling stock are vigorously pursued.
A senior delegation from China reportedly was in both countries for talks and to identify an immediate action plan to turn the fortunes of TAZARA around, also, however, ensuring that before a Chinese state company steps in to manage TAZARA, both governments meet all outstanding financial obligations.
The railway, some 1,860 kilometers long and traversing the entire Tanzanian territory from the Indian Ocean shores to the borders with Zambia, is a precursor to the commercial lines built by China in this century, with the Mombasa to Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway but one example, albeit the most advanced, how new rail lines can help transform the East African economies.
The Tanzanian government, under President Magufuli, besides having a keen interest to see TAZARA revived, has also struck a deal with Rwanda and Burundi to develop a new standard gauge line through the central corridor to link Dar es Salaam with the inland dry port of Isaka from where a new railway then connects to the Rwandan border and the capital Kigali.