by Ben Taylor
Air Tanzania grows, and struggles
Tanzania’s national airline, Air Tanzania (ATCL), maintained the rapid pace of growth in its fleet with the delivery of two new Airbus A220-300 aircraft in October 2021, in addition to the two similar craft received in 2018. Each plane holds 120 economy seats and 12 business class seats.
A week later, Tanzania made a down payment of USD $258.7m for the purchase of five additional new aircraft for the airline. The order includes cargo planes, which are all expected to be delivered before the end of 2023.
Aviation industry sources told The EastAfrican newspaper that the funds were approved by the current government despite heavy losses incurred by the carrier under a revival programme initiated by former president John Magufuli and the effects of Covid-19 pandemic.
The planes, once they arrive in the country, will raise Air Tanzania’s current fleet size to 16. Air Tanzania also operates two Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, two other Airbus A220-300s and five Bombardier Q-400/ Dash 8-400s. The aircraft are owned by the Government and ATCL is leasing them.
Further, Air Tanzania announced four new regional routes to be launched in November 2021 from Dar es Salaam to Bujumbura, Ndola, Lubumbashi and Nairobi. The first flight to Nairobi touched down on November 26, fifteen years after the last Air Tanzania flights to the Kenyan capital. Flights are scheduled twice daily between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Nevertheless, Air Tanzania continues to face major challenges. The Coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the travel industry across the world and Tanzania is no exception. As a result, the company has ruled out the possibility of breaking even in 2022 contrary to their initial plans.
In October, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) listed ATCL as having borrowed money without going through the correct approval process. Specifically, the committee concluded that the company had borrowed just under TSh 900m without the approval of the Ministry of Finance as required by law.
The PAC’s investigations were prompted by an audit report of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG), Mr Charles Kichere, released in March, which found that ATCL had incurred losses worth TSh 150 billion in the five years to 2020. Mr Kichere said ATCL aircraft travelling abroad run the risk of being impounded because of the huge debts and the related interests.
Roads and bridges in Dar es Salaam
In December, President Samia Suluhu Hassan officially opened a newly-widened 4.3 km section of New Bagamoyo Road, phase II, linking Morocco junction and Mwenge junction, as part of the government strategy to decongest the city. She stated that the government will continue with the efforts to strengthen road funds as well as securing adequate funding for the maintenance of all roads in the country.
Works and Transport Minister, Prof Makame Mbarawa said the Mwenge-Morocco section had been constructed at a cost of TSh 71.8bn, funded by the government of Japan.
“The completion of widening of New Bagamoyo road will not only reduce traffic congestion but also reduce accidents to the users and ensure smooth transportation to and from Dar es Salaam city,” said Eng Mbarawa.
Other road projects in the city experienced slight delays however, that meant they were not able to officially open on schedule in 2021.
This includes the newly-expanded eight-lane highway linking Kimara in Dar es Salaam to Kibaha in the Coast Region. The government explained the delay in completing the project, citing some adjustments in the project as the main factor. “We saw the need to construct feeder roads, a bridge at Mbezi Kwa Yusufu and a flyover at Goba-Mbezi to ease traffic plying the Goba-Segerea route,” he said. This is expected to delay the official inauguration of the road by several months.
More imminent is the launch of the New Selander Bridge in Dar es Salaam, linking Oyster Bay with Barack Obama Drive (formerly Ocean Road) in the city centre near the Aga Khan hospital. Construction was completed in December 2021, leaving only minor works (security barriers) remaining before the bridge can open.
At a cost of TSh 256 bn, this is the largest development project funded by the South Korean government in Africa. It measures 670m in length and combines the characteristics of a girder bridge and a cable-stayed bridge to make it lighter. “Basically the bridge the construction has been completed and the construction of the barriers will be completed soon. We could have allowed one side to be used but we decided to wait until we are done with the barriers,” said the Tanroads’ Chief Executive Officer, Rogatus Mativila.
Once open, the bridge is expected to radically improve connections between the Msasani peninsula and the city centre. It will have the capacity to carry 55,000 vehicles per day, easing congestion at the old Selander Bridge, which has been a major bottleneck for many years.
Bagamoyo back on the table?
President Samia Suluhu Hassan has taken steps to revive the stalled Bagamoyo Port and Special Economic Zone (BSEZ) project, inviting Chinese investors back to the table.
Previously, under President Kikwete in 2013, the government had reached agreement with the investors – China Merchants Holdings International (CMHI) and Oman’s State General Reserve Fund – for the project, costing USD $10bn. However, in 2016, President Magufuli dismissed the it, saying it was exploitative and inappropriate. He said the Chinese financiers had set “tough conditions that can only be accepted by mad people,” and argued that the project was incompatible with the ongoing expansion of Dar es Salaam port.
Speaking at the Summit of the National Business Council, President Hassan announced “the good news that we have started talks to revive the whole project. We are going to start talks with the investors that came for the project with the aim of opening it for the benefit of our nation.”
It would be the largest port in East Africa, and was a key component in China’s $900-billion Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious transnational infrastructure building programme.
Analysts speaking in responses requested anonymity in reporting their views. One stated that the investors were unable to respond to some of the “gravely false statements” by those against the project because the statements were being put forward by senior figures who they would not want to engage into tussles with. Another argued that the whole project could create as many 270,000 jobs in its first phase.
ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe shared similar sentiments, saying by cancelling the BSEZ, Tanzania was simply losing its international reputation to its strategic partners like China and Oman. “The Bagamoyo project was a very important venture for the Chinese President’s Belt and Road Initiative. The failure of this project indicated a diplomatic weakness of our country, which is costly for the development of our country,” he says.
Renowned economist, Prof Samuel Wangwe, said what Tanzanian negotiators needed was to know what value addition the country wanted by developing Bagamoyo Port. “It’s about ensuring that the development of the port complements the Dar es Salaam port,” he said.