FURTHER ON DOWN THE ROAD

Tanzania 2014 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Harrison Mwakyembe, Minister of Transport, on public-private partnerships, the eradication of larceny, and the role of transport in Tanzania's evolution.

Harrison Mwakyembe
BIOGRAPHY
Harrison Mwakyembe holds law degrees from the University of Hamburg and the University of Dar es Salaam. He headed the Department of International Law at Dar es Salaam University from 1997 to 2002, and has been a Member of Parliament since 2005. He was the Deputy Minster of Works before assuming his current position as the Minister of Transport.

What role do you see investors playing in the coming years in Tanzania's transport sector?

I think the private sector has a lot of potential in the coming years. We have an expansive country, with a total area of 945,000 square kilometers and a growing population of 44 million people. If you look back just 52 years to our independence, the population barely numbered 10 million. We have six neighboring countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi, and boast a long coastline with many ports. Therefore, it goes without saying that transport is a crucial consideration, and that an improved system has great significance for the country and the entire region. Yet, the prohibitive cost of infrastructure requires private sector investment. Our central rail line running from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma, built in 1906, is obsolete and in need of renovation. Our long-term plan is to have a standard gauge railway from Dar es Salaam to Kigali and Musongati in Burundi. Yet our short-term scheme simply involves the replacement of existing rails. These have a tolerance of 56 pounds per yard, and we ideally need 80 pounds per yard to allow increased cargo transportation. This is an enormous task for a developing country, and requires major investment to be realized. I am happy that the private sector has shown strong cooperation in this regard. A number of companies, such as Bakhresa, which transports flour to Uganda and moves substantial freight, have also been in talks. We requested its financial contribution to renovate new locomotives in exchange for use of the line. We also have a road network of about 86,000 kilometers and the government has been building further roads; however, this has also been difficult. Unfortunately, over the years around 95% of cargo has moved by road rather than rail. To safeguard our roads, without neglecting their use either, we need to invest more in railway transportation. This said, we also want the private sector to take an interest in the road network, and indeed, a number of new roads are already being built on a PPP basis, such as the Chinese Expressway. There is much leeway for private sector participation, and more can be done to accommodate it to foster a welcoming environment for the foreign investor.

How will higher efficiency be achieved enabling the Port of Dar es Salaam to handle increased cargo volume?

We have a number of plans in place. For example, we are renovating berths numbers one through seven. These were built in the 1950s with no improvement made in the interim, resulting in inefficiencies. We are seeking financing for renovation and capacity expansion of the ports as soon as possible. We have taken very serious measures to combat problems such as inefficiency, theft, and congestion. We replaced the entire management board and subsequently advertized the positions internationally. Importantly, we exercise zero-tolerance for theft. In 2012, when I joined the Ministry, about 30 containers had unaccountably disappeared. Today, those responsible are accountable and responsible for any losses. In short, we have made notable progress on this front, and I am sure that the port will become one of the most efficient in Africa over the coming years. In fact, the 18 million ton target should be reached by 2015 or 2016.

There is tight competition in Tanzania in the air travel sector. What regulatory decisions have allowed the competitive environment of lower airfares to come about?

For a long time, Tanzania had only one airline, namely Air Tanzania. Later on Precision Air arrived, but the country needed greater competition, and I am still inviting players. By the end of 2013, there will be many new operators coming in, which create a better environment of choice for the people of East Africa.

“ We are upgrading Kigoma airport to become one of the largest in the country, and Tabora airport is also almost complete. "

In terms of airports, how will the airport authority increase the reach of those airlines over the coming years?

Our concentration should be on infrastructure and this is our responsibility. We should be able to provide the requisite environment for air travel. We have been very busy constructing airports. For instance, the Mwanza airport is being upgraded to an international facility. We are upgrading Kigoma airport to become one of the largest in the country, and Tabora airport is also almost complete. Even in Kilwa, we have undertaken renovation, while work is underway on a new terminal at Dar es Salaam. We have built a state-of-the-art airport in Panda, situated in the bush, and commenced work on a new airport in Songea. However, we are not in competition with the private sector, but rather encouraging its participation.

President Kikwete is passionate about the Tanzania Deevelopment Vision 2025 and the idea of Tanzania becoming a middle-income country. How does transport factor into this?

By 2025, we should have mechanized agriculture and be doing better in terms of education provision. In fact, we should generally be doing better across all sectors. The mainstay of the economy is agriculture, for which transport infrastructure is crucial. Farmers in the south of the country are being encouraged to grow more, but at the end of the day the reality is that there is no means of transporting the produce. This is a priority; we cannot achieve the Vision 2025 without radical solutions and tangible results. We have no other option but to improve, and I am confident that the coming two years will witness dramatic change.