OVER the last few years, Tanzania has embarked on key interventions aimed at unlocking water transport infrastructure as the East African second-largest nation looks to exploit her strategic position to expedite economic growth.
Massive investments have been channelled towards the expansion of sea ports of Dar es Salaam, Tanga and Mtwara as well as inland ports on major Lakes; Victoria, Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa.
Also, the government has continuously allocated funds for procurement of port handling facilities; rehabilitation of marine vessels; and construction of Dry Ports along Dar es Salaam and Central Corridors.
But one of the standout projects is the construction of the modern Karema Port on Lake Tanganyika, whose completion marked a new milestone in the country’s shipping industry and cross-border trade.
The construction of the new container terminal in Tanganyika District, Katavi Region was implemented by the government through the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA).
While Karema Port holds the key to Tanzania’s maritime strategy, there is only one missing link, a tarmac road linking the port to Katavi-Kigoma highway, about 110km away.
Traders and transporters in Katavi Region blame the poor road as the main stumbling blocks for the terminal to go fully fledged and realise its massive potential.
Lying invitingly on the eastern shore of the world’s longest freshwater Tanganyika Lake in Tanganyika District, 123km from Katavi town, Karema Port is like a beautiful lady waiting for a proposal.
The imposing cargo and passenger terminal kicked off operations September, last year but is yet to attract sizable users, and many point to unfriendly road infrastructure as the main undoing.
“It is a magnificent port, and we commend the government for this project, it’s a massive investment and strategically located,” a dhow operator, Mussa Rashid says, while expressing concerns over a bad road condition, which discourages traders from exploiting the new transport route to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighbouring coastal towns.
Rashid who plies the world’s second deepest second largest freshwater lake, transporting foodstuffs including cassava, rice and maize between Kasanga, Kabwe and Kibirizi ports says despite its elegancy and good location, Karema Port, businesses find it difficult to use the port because of unfriendly road which links the port to the Katavi-Kigoma highway.
He pleads with the government to fast-track the construction of the road to enable local and international traders to utilise the facility, which links Tanzania and land-linked countries of the DRC, Burundi and Zambia.
“Once this road is constructed to tarmac level, many people will choose Karema Port as their gateway to domestic and international markets in DRC and Burundi,” he says, adding that the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) should do more promotion campaigns so that people become aware of the advantages of using the new container terminal.
His sentiments were echoed by Justine Mtweve, a trader in Katavi Region, who stresses that the poor state of the road infrastructure is to blame for traders’ reluctance to use Karema Port.
“We’re really grateful to the TPA and the government for the logical decision to construct this port in Tanganyika District, it is easy and short to cross to Kalemie Port which is located on the other side of DRC, but the government should solve the road puzzle,” Mtweve urges.
Salome Bigize, who transports cassava to DRC, insists that the untarmacked road, which has many potholes and also prone to floods at some sections, remains a major stumbling block for the envisaged full swing operation of Karema Port.
“There is no question that Karema is the best port on Lake Tanganyika but a poor road is the main reason why people are still not utilising it,’ she asserted.
Lake Tanganyika Ports Manager, Mr Edward Mabula says Karema Port is one of the modern port terminals and commends the government for bankrolling its construction.
“It is a modern port with sophisticated equipment and technologies and we welcome customers to use this terminal because they can be assured of excellent services,” says Mr Mabula.
He adds that the new Karema Port will serve as a new trade corridor, connecting the southern part of DRC, Burundi and Zambia to Dar es Salaam Port.
Mabula notes further that the government decided to construct the new port terminal to exploit the untapped great potential of cross-border trade with the land-linked nations.
According to Mr Mabula the optimism is high that the port will attract many users, noting that a number of traders have shown interest to use Karema Port and expressed optimism that the impending construction of the road will boost usage of the terminal.
The TPA Manager for Lake Tanganyika ports urges businesses to tap lucrative business and market opportunities created by the port, insisting the government’s plans are underway to construct the Katavi-Karema Road.
He says the port will also be linked with a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to be constructed from Mpanda town.
The SGR line will branch off at Kaliua and head to Karema Port to target large markets in the south – eastern DRC, Zambia and Burundi.
The strategic port terminal was constructed by China’s Xiamen Ongoing Construction Group at the cost of 47.9bn/-. Its construction started in October 2019.
The construction involved 22,500 square meters of heavy pavement, a tides breaker, a multi-purpose 150-metres berth to accommodate up to two vessels of 75 metres in length, with 15 meters in width, dredging and deepening of the port entrance, office building, passengers lounge and a general cargo warehouse.
The port’s initial capacity is one million tonnes of cargo, however, there is room for expanding capacity up to 3 million tonnes since TPA’s area measures 66 acres.