Maputo — The Mozambican government intends to invest 400 million US dollars in the full rehabilitation of the road from the port of Beira to Machipanda, on the border with Zimbabwe.
The Minister of Public Works, Cadmiel Muthemba, announced in Beira at the weekend that the rehabilitation of the road, which is about 300 kilometres long, will begin in February 2014. The finance is a loan from the Chinese export-import bank (Exim Bank).
Muthemba, cited in the independent daily “O Pais”, said that the road will be substantially widened. Along its entire length the road will be at least a four lane highway, and in places, such as the approaches to Beira, it will have six lanes.
“The road will have roundabouts at particularly busy areas, such as the Inchope crossroads (where the road to Zimbabwe meets Mozambique's main north-south highway), Chimoio city, and the towns of Gondola and Manica”, said the Minister. “We want to guarantee the normal circulation of people and goods”.
Along some stretches the road will be elevated, notably along the Pungue flats. This is where the current road runs alongside the Pungue river. When the Pungue bursts its banks, which happens frequently during Mozambican rainy seasons, the road is swamped, and sometimes the flooding is serious enough to interrupt traffic to and from Zimbabwe.
Raising the road above the level of the river will certainly be expensive, but it will ensure that traffic continues to flow in all weathers.
But users will have to pay. The Beira-Zimbabwe road will be farmed out for maintenance to a private company, which will charge motorists through toll gates. “Users must contribute to maintaining the roads”, said Muthemba. “We will thus have more money to guarantee the routine maintenance of the roads, thus ensuring that they last longer”.
So far, the only major road in the country with toll gates is the Maputo-South Africa motorway, operated by the South African company Trans-Africa Concessions (TRAC).
At the moment, the Beira-Zimbabwe road is in a poor and dangerous condition. In order to avoid gaping potholes, motorists frequently cross into the opposite lane, risking collisions with vehicles gong in the other direction. Emergency repairs between Beira and Inchope, which should have been finished in mid-April, are months behind schedule, and the Sofala provincial government is considering cancelling the contracts with the companies concerned.
The road is of key importance to the trade, not only of Zimbabwe, but of other landlocked southern African countries, including Zambia, Malawi and even parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The road that branches off the Beira-Zimbabwe highway at Tica and leads to the district of Buzi, is to be tarred, Muthemba announced.
This is budgeted at 150 million dollars, and the money will come from the Indian Eximbank. Work on the Tica-Buzi road will begin this year.
But Muthemba lamented that there was no money available to rehabilitate the road from Inchope to Caia, on the south bank of the Zambezi. This is a key part of the north-south highway, and it needs thorough rehabilitation.
“We aren't sitting back with arms crossed”, said Muthemba. “With the few financial resources we have, we are working on the most critical sections, until we find the money for a complete rehabilitation”.
But a complete rehabilitation of this road was done less than a decade ago. Indeed, in May 2007, the then Minister of Industry and Trade, Antonio Fernando, boasted in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, that the Inchope-Caia road, "used to be a nightmare", but had been rebuilt to such a high standard that it resembled a racing track.
It seems that the company that rehabilitated the road has some awkward questions to answer on why, in just six years, it has deteriorated to the point where once again it needs complete reconstruction.