Tanzania’s $10bn China-funded port will start in 2015

China is to build a huge new port and special economic zone in Tanzania worth at least $10 billion. Construction is due to start on 1 July 2015 as the country bids to rival Kenya’s Mombasa as transport hub for East Africa and is also investing in road, railways and major developments in commercial capital Dar es Salaam, 60 kilometres south.

Last Sunday, 26 Oct, the construction agreement for the port and associated 22,000 acres zone was signed in Shenzhen, southern China, with Tanzanian President as witness. According to a statement from the Office of the President, reported on Reuters: “The Tanzanian Government signed a memorandum of understanding with two major international institutions … to develop the Bagamoyo economic zone”.

It was signed with
• China Merchant Holding International (CMHI, based in Hong Kong) which claims to be “the largest public port operator in China and… leading… in the global port industry”. and
• State General Reserve Fund (SGRF) of Oman, the sultanate’s biggest sovereign wealth fund.

An earlier report on website Aid Data said the agreements also covered CMHI building railway infrastructure leading up to the port and the economic zone. Initial financing was $500m in 2013, supplied by Export-Import Bank of China.

Dar es Salaam harbour. Photo: Tom Minney

Dar es Salaam harbour. Photo: Tom Minney

A framework agreement between Tanzania and the Chinese port operator had been signed when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania in March 2013, the first country on his African tour soon after his inauguration.

An official said it had taken time to set a start date for building work because of other negotiations about infrastructure to link the port to national transport networks. Li Jianhong, executive chairman of CMHI, asked Tanzania’s Government at the signing of the contract to remove obstacles that have delayed implementation. President Kikwete said in the statement: “We will do everything possible to ensure that this project takes off because it will bring enormous economic benefits to the entire country,” according to Reuters.

Separately, Tanzania and China on 24 Oct signed deals with Chinese firms worth more than $1.7 bn, including one to build a satellite city to ease congestion in Dar es Salaam, deepening Beijing’s ties with east Africa. China is financing a $1.2 bn natural-gas pipeline that will run 532 km and in 2011 China’s Sichuan Hongda Co Ltd signed a $3bn deal with Tanzania to mine coal and iron ore. The new port is expected to handle 20 times more cargo than the existing port at Dar es Salaam, according to Aid Data website. It will act as a hub for raw materials coming in and out neighbouring landlocked countries, as well as bringing Chinese manufactured goods into the region, according to this earlier investigative report.

The report also said there were questions after the new port was pushed through Parliament by the ruling party with little debate. Apparently Dar es Salaam port is underused and with enough capacity until 2016-2020 depending on traffic. Other ports such as Tanga in the North and Mtwara in the South are dormant. Bagamoyo is a historic town.

The Bagamoyo agreements include large container and vehicle facilities, combined with smaller scale dry bulk and multi-purpose terminals at Mwambani Bay. It plans to handle more than 20m containers per year and also includes construction of a standard-gauge railway link to the central corridor railway at Ruvu Station and an extended link with the TAZARA railway. A highway to link the port to the Uhuru Highway that goes to Zambia will also be built.

China will have control of the port for 40 years. It provides access to 8 countries as Tanzania borders Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, with cargo uptake as far as South Sudan, The Comoro islands, Madagascar and the Seychelles. Journalist Shermax Ngahemera writes: “For China, the leading exporter in the world, it is an ideal site… China is widely involved in extraction industry in central Africa, especially in Zambia, the DR Congo and Angola. Cargo to and from those countries can therefore easily be diverted to Bagamoyo. In 2013 trade between Africa and China reached more than $200bn.”

He dismisses claims that it could have military significance, quoting a senior retired Navy General pointing out that at 14metres it could not berth a submarine. He also quoted the African Development Bank which says transporting supplies in East Africa is more expensive than in any other region, due to inefficient operations at ports in the region, road checkpoints and border controls. Shipping to Tanzania is 25% more than shipping to the larger and more efficient ports in Southern Africa.

China built the TAZARA railway linking Tanzania and Zambia in the 1960s and 1970s.

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