Hichilema Secures Xi’s Support to Upgrade TAZARA

From 10 to 16 September 2023, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema was on official visit to China. Zambia was one of the first countries in Southern Africa to achieve independence on 24 October 1964 and went on to establish diplomatic ties with China a few days later on 29 October 1964. The relationship can be traced back to the friendship between Zambian Founding President Kenneth Kaunda and Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong.

In 2022, the bilateral trade volume reached USD 6.7 billion, representing a 30% increase year on year. Currently, there are more than 600 Chinese firms registered in Zambia which are mostly involved in mining and agribusiness.

Hachilema Pays Tribute to Deng Xiaoping for Leading the Economic Transformation of China

In the late 1960s, Zambia and Tanzania sought the assistance of China to build the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (#TAZARA). The railroad was to provide an alternative route for copper exports without going through Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, which was then under the colonial administration and apartheid regime.

In line with the spirit of the Bandung conference of 1955, China responded positively, after the project was turned down by the World Bank and even the USSR. The TAZARA project was christened as the Uhuru Railway since it was seen as a powerful symbol in the ‘Fight for Freedom’ and contributed to break off the economic shackles of colonialism, imperialism and racism.

“The TAZARA railway line is a symbol of the friendship between China and Africa, and the people of our two countries share a special bond with each other.”

Chinese President XI Jinping

This project burnished the image of China in the eyes of Africans as China was perceived as an ‘all-weather friend’. From the project signing in 1967 to its commissioning in 1975, some twenty African countries took the decision to establish official diplomatic ties with China. The African countries saw that China was sincere, saw real benefits and TAZARA infused Africa with a sense of hope.

The TAZARA project consists of a single rail line which runs for 1,860 km and reaches a maximum altitude of 1,400 meters. At that time, the project cost was USD 500 million, and it was the most expensive overseas project undertaken by China. From today’s perspective, the amount is even more exceptional, given that China was considered to be even poorer than some African countries at the time.

TAZARA Route Map

Other than copper, Zambia has now also successfully exported honey and blueberries to China. In March 2023, China completed and commissioned the Kafue Gorge Lower Hydropower Station with a total capacity of 750+12 MW.

As part of the upgrade plan, the single-line TAZARA will be converted from Three-Foot and Six-Inch Gauge (1,067mm) to Standard Gauge (1,435mm). The TAZARA links the seaport of Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi. From, there it is easy to connect to the Capital Lusaka and other neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe. The railway can extend to the Atlantic Coast by passing through DR Congo and Angola which is one of the flagship #EconomicCorridors under the #BRI.

Prior to the visit, Chinese Ambassador in Zambia, Mr DU Xiaohui called for the upholding of the spirit that characterized the TAZARA project. The financing of the TAZARA comes shortly after top foreign creditors recently agreed to restructure Zambian national debt. It is hoped that getting the train project on the move will add momentum to the rebound of the Zambian economy.

Inspired by its own success with the #SEZ in Shenzhen, China agreed to set up its first #SEZ in Africa in Zambia back in 2003. Currently, China has established two SEZ in Zambia, one near Lusaka and another in Chambishi, in the Coppperbelt region. It is no coincidence that the first stop of this official trip was programmed to be in Shenzhen.

Thus, it is worth noting that President Hichilema visited the highly-automated assembly plant of the largest Chinese #EV maker BYD in Shenzhen. On various international fora, Zambia has expressed its ambition to graduate from an exporter of low-value commodities to high-value finished products. In particular, Zambia wishes to perform local value addition (#LVA) of its rich reserves of #CriticalMinerals by producing batteries and #EV.

In 2022, the first edition of the China-Zambia Trade and Investment Forum was held with more than 400 Chinese and Zambian businesses in attendance. In an effort to boost trade and investment and to mark the 60th anniversary of Sino-Zambian diplomatic ties, the two countries mutually agreed to designate 2024 as the Year of Business Cooperation between Zambia and China.