Anyone wishing to travel from the capital of Tanzania south to the capital of neighbouring Mozambique invariably catches a plane. The flight time from Dar es Salaam to Maputo is about five or six hours.
If you have a fear of flying, it is theoretically possible to drive.
You would have to drive west from Dar to the port of Kigoma on Lake Malawi, where you would catch a ferry to the Zambian port of Mpulungu. After this you’d have to drive south, through Lusaka to Zimbabwe, then all the way across Zimbabwe to Johannesburg, from where you’d head east and, skirting the northern border of Swaziland, enter Mozambique at Lebombo, followed by a last lap to Maputo on the two-lane toll road known as the EN4. All being well, the journey would take about five or six days.
Clearly, there is little prospect of connecting up the economies of eastern and southern Africa without better ground transport links than that – so the ceremony held on Tuesday, 2 October, to begin work on the first paved highway between Tanzania and Mozambique, had rather more significance than most new road schemes around the world.Â Â Â
The first stone was laid by Filipe Nyusi, the president of Mozambique, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. This marked the beginning of work on a historic project: a 165km metalled road that will directly link Mozambique with its northern neighbour.
In his speech, President Nyusi said the road was a dream come true. "It will promote international commerce with Tanzania and consequently contribute to poverty eradication," he said.
The planned road falls far short of linking the two capitals, but it’s a start, and quite a significant one.
That’s because the border between the two countries is marked by the Rovuma River. This was spanned by the "Unity Bridge" back in 2010, but the bridge has remained unused because there is no road on Mozambique’s end of it – a fact that reflects the relative wealth of the two states, with Mozambique’s GDP of about $12bn being less than a quarter of Tanzania’s.
Now that road will finally be supplied, thanks to a grant of $72m from the African Development Bank (AfDB), approved in December 2016.
The easiest way to reach Mueda from Mozambique (4wallz/Creative Commons)
The work will be carried out in two phases by Chinese contractor Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group, which will employ predominantly local labour.
The first stage of the work involves paving a dirt road from Negomano, on the Tanzanian border, to Roma, a distance of 70km.
This will cut the time taken to move between the two towns from three hours by four-wheel drive to one, by a standard car, and replace wooden bridges with three reinforced concrete structures. The second phase will take the road south from Roma to the regional transport hub of Mueda. This part of the project will begin in 2019.
Joao David, an infrastructure specialist at the AfDB, said the bank was expecting the Mueda-Negomano road to boost the regional economy, mainly by making it easier for tourists to reach the Niassa Reserve, home to a wide range of elephants, wildebeest, impalas and antelopes, as well as more than 400 species of birds.
David said: "It is no accident that currently more than 60% of the bank’s operations in Mozambique are aimed at the transport sector. This partly reflects the role Mozambique plays on the regional chessboard, as a country providing services to landlocked countries."
Other significant projects in the country include the $5bn Nacala corridor rail and port project in Mozambique and Malawi, of one of Africa’s largest infrastructure schemes. This is designed to create a corridor for trade in coal and agricultural (see "Further reading", below).
Top image: Sunset over the huge Lake Niassa Reserve (USAID)