Techobanine — The governments of Mozambique and Botswana signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday to develop a deep water port at Techobanine point, in Mozambique's southernmost district of Matutuine.
Besides building a port that can receive bulk mineral ships, oil tankers and passenger vessels, the project also involves a new 1,100 kilometre railway linking Techobanine to Botswana, and passing through Zimbabwe.
The document was signed, in Techobanine itself, by Mozambican Transport Minister Paulo Zucula, and his Botswanan counterpart, Frank Ramsden.
Speaking during the presentation of the project , Adelino Mesquita, the Chief Executive Officer of Mozambique's port and rail company, CFM, said that the budget for studies and for the construction of the port and railway is estimated at around seven billion US dollars.
The preparatory phase, including the mobilisation of finance, should be completed by the end of 2011, and the first phase of construction will take place between 2012 and 2015.
Mozambican Transport Minister Paulo Zucula told the ceremony that the memorandum of understanding marks the rebirth of a dream for a deep water port in Matutuine that dates from the 1960s. The original site indicated for such a port was Dobela Point, but it has been shifted to Techobanine largely for environmental reasons.
"This memorandum of understanding has been long awaited, given its importance in relaunching the foundations for a common strategic vision for the Techobanine Point project, in order to meet the challenges of the transport sector and the expansion of the regional market", said Zucula..
For his part, Ramsden declared that the memorandum marks an important stage in strengthening the relations of cooperation between the two countries.
"As a country of the hinterland, Botswana needs exits to the sea in neighbouring countries, to facilitate its imports and exports", he said. "With this port we shall encourage trade and tourism between our peoples".
Botswana believes a new port and railway will dramatically reduce the time taken to move its imports and exports. According to Taolo Sebonego, the chairperson of the Botswana rail company, with the country's current dependence on South African ports, it takes up to 22 days for merchandise to arrive, be unloaded and reach its destination.
He expected the new port and railway to reduce this period to an average of just six days.
The Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tomas Salomao, stressed that SADC will give its full support "because we believe this project is important for the region". SADC would also encourage other member states, Such as South Africa (which is just 30 kilometres from Techbanine) and Swaziland, to participate in the initiative.
The Mozambican and Botswanan governments believe that private finance will be forthcoming, since the port and railway can be leased out to private management.
But when AIM asked Zucula what would happen if the private sector failed to provide the money, he replied "if there is no interest from private business, then there will be no problem in arranging public investment, because the project justifies this".
The main cargo expected to use the new port is coal from Botswana. The country has an estimated 212 billion tonnes of coal reserves. Using Techobanine would free Botswana from dependence on the South African ports of Durban and Richard Bay which, apart from congestion problems, give priority to South African exports.