The Mozambican government has once again rejected calls from Malawi to allow commercial shipping along the Zambezi River, dashing hopes by Malawian President Peter Mutharika to begin use of the Nsanje inland port that his country built on its side of the Shire River, the main tributary of the Zambezi.President Mutharika announced at the weekend that his government was discussing with the Mozambican authorities to push ahead with plans to build facilities that are still lacking at the port.
However, the Mozambican transport ministry on Thursday denied that there are any talks with Malawi, with the head of bilateral cooperation at the ministry Horacio Parquinio saying “there is nothing to talk about.”
“As far as Mozambique is concerned, the matter is closed because that environmental assessment studies had been undertaken which did not recommend opening the Zambezi to commercial shipping despite Malawi insistently raising the question of Nsanje port and the Shire-Zambezi waterway, but Mozambique has refused to reopen the subject,” Parquinio said.
He added: “In a recent meeting on the Nacala Corridor, they wanted to bring the question of Nsanje port to the negotiating table, but we, the Mozambican delegation, made them understand that this was not a matter up for discussion and the question was withdrawn from the agenda”.
The Nacala Corridor is an infrastructure route involving infrastructure such as a railway line running from the northern Mozambican port of Nacala to Malawi.
Nsanje port was a pet project of the Malawian leader’s late brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, who believed that using the Shire and Zambezi rivers would reduce the costs of Malawi’s foreign trade.
In 2010, the Malawian government, with great fanfare, inaugurated the Nsanje port, which cost around $20 million to build.
The inauguration ceremony was a huge embarrassment when the Mozambican authorities blocked fertilizer laden barges that were en route along the Zambezi to Nsanje.
Mozambique opposed opening the two rivers to international traffic on environmental grounds. For example, to make the entire route navigable would entail constant dredging, and any major spills would be damaging to delicate river eco-systems.
Mozambique contends that the navigation project for the Chire and Zambezi rivers, which would provide Malawi with access to the Indian Ocean, lacks conditions and is not even economically viable in the short, medium and long term.