Malawi: Looking Beyond Malawi Traditional Shipping Corridors

By now it is a foregone conclusion that Nsanje Inland waterway project will never see the light of day. This project was conceived as one way of reducing cost of inland haulage expenses for Malawi's imports and exports. A number of issues, technical and otherwise, well documented, came into play and suddenly we are back on the drawing board.

Port of Beira remains the most highly utilized port of choice for Malawian importers and exporters seconded by port of Nacala which is serviced by rail. The costs of inland haulage between Beira, Nacala and Malawi (Lilongwe and Blantyre) hovers around $3100 to $4200 per maximum 30 tonnes cargo, containerized or breakbulk. These costs are very exorbitant and contributes to making Malawi's exports unattractive on the global stage.

Whilst the Malawi Government has embarked on connecting the current rail network to the Sena corridor, the pursuit of other cheaper options should be an on-going project. It is time to think beyond Beira, Nacala, Dar es Salaam and Durban.

Time has come to look at Quelimane port, wedged between the Port of Nacala in the north, Beira Port in the South and see what options it can offer Malawi. It is time to invest significant energies and efforts to make this option a bankable project.

The Port of Quelimane is a relatively small sea port on the Cuácua River approximately 22km from the Indian Ocean. At the end of the civil war, Quelimane port underwent a massive rehabilitation and expansion programme including construction of a new 230m concrete quayside. The Port has very stable power supply which is good news for cold chain supply.

More good news is that the road network from Quelimane to Milange border district with Malawi has been upgraded to bitumen standard with EDF funding. The same road network from Milange to Mocuba extends to Nampula and Nacala thereby providing a road option from Nacala Port to Malawi. This would be akin to killing two birds with one stone.

The distance between Quelimane and Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital is barely 400km unlike Beira at approximately 900km and 800km for Nacala respectively. This would entail a very good cost reduction in inland haulage charges with significant potential benefits to the country's imports and exports. Transit times would also significantly benefit from the Quelimane option as driving times would be reduced to about 6 hours.

It is well documented that the Mozambique Government is planning to seriously expand the capacity of the port to handle 20 million tonnes of coal exports per year in response to the increasing demand from producers up in the central Zambezia province. This is more evidence of the strategic position of Quelimane port. This port stands to be a very important logistical hub for the remote regions in northern Mozambique, the coal producing region of Tete and landlocked Malawi.

The channel draft at the port is 4.9 - 6.1 m and the maximum vessel size that can safely berth at this port is 150 m in length. This capacity of would require some substantial investments to accommodate bigger cargo vessels, bigger container yards, warehousing and port security. With the right value proposition, serious investors and multilateral donors should be able to come in and finance the project.

All factors being constant, Quelimane port provides a very attractive option for Malawi and would be able to absorb 30% to 40% of all import and export traffic.

Malawi needs to rebuild and consolidate its bilateral relationship with Mozambique and engage them on this Quelimane corridor project. Remember the old adage, if you don't throw the bait, you don't catch the fish, the ball is in Malawi's court. Unlike the execution of the ill-fated Nsanje inland waterway project, Malawi should conduct some due diligence and feasibility study but also ensure Mozambique as host if engaged and appraised in all stages.

We have more to gain from Quelimane. Vejo você em Quelimane (See you in Quelimane)

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