Landlocked Swaziland government yet to approach Mozambican counterpart on shipping port’s cross country canal

(2015-08-26) Landlocked Swaziland wants to build a port and, to that end, plans to build a 26-Km canal which would carry the water from the Indian Ocean across Mozambique. One of the arguments in favour of this pharaonic project is “traffic congestion in neighbouring ports”. Read the AIM report below about a project the Swazi media since the mid August.

Despite being entirely landlocked, and possessing no navigable rivers, Swaziland wants to build a port.

According to the daily ‘Times of Swaziland’, the Swazi Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Gideon Dlamini, declared last week that the government is entirely in support of the project, which would involve digging a canal through Mozambique to reach the Indian Ocean.

“At government level, we are fully behind the project and we are giving it undivided support. The project owners had done presentations to Cabinet and we interrogated it and found that it is a wonderful one. Following Cabinet’s realisation that the project is good and viable, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini then tasked the different concerned ministries to start working together with the project owners straight away,” Dlamini said.

The man behind the project is a Swazi businessman named Moses Motsa, reputedly one of the richest men in the country. The project put before the Swazi government would cost 30 billion emalangeni (2.3 billion US dollars).

The reports from Swaziland speak of building a 26 kilometre canal from the Mozambican coast to Mlawula, where the port will be built on 15 to 20 hectares of land. Motsa has plans for a large port with space for four vessels to dock at a time.

There are multiple problems with this scenario. First, no point on the coast is a mere 26 kilometres from Mlawula. As the crow flies, the nearest point on the Mozambican coast is over 70 kilometres from the site of the proposed port.

Furthermore, as anyone who has driven from Maputo to Swaziland can testify, the land rises steeply. Canals are fine for transporting goods over flat terrain – but if there are hills in the way, locks must be built, dramatically increasing the costs. Building a canal with a system of locks capable of holding ocean-going vessels would be a massive engineering undertaking.

Such an operation is also entirely unnecessary. Swaziland’s main trading partner is South Africa. Over 90 per cent of Swaziland’s imports come from South Africa, and about 70 per cent of its exports go to South Africa. So for the great bulk of Swazi trade a canal through Mozambique is simply irrelevant, as a glimpse at a map should show Moses Motsa and the Swazi government.

The rest of Swaziland’s trade, for example with Europe or the United States, can be easily handled by the port of Maputo. There are already reasonable rail and road links between Swaziland and Maputo. Upgrading these would certainly be much cheaper than building an inland port.

The Mozambican authorities have not yet commented on the Swazi plan. According to the ‘Times of Swaziland’ article, Gideon Dlamini said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was assigned by the Prime Minister “to engage with Mozambique with the aim of reaching an agreement over accessing the sea.”

This implies that, as of last week, the Swazi government had not yet approached its Mozambican counterpart about building the canal.

Source: AIM

Photo: (FIle) / Mswati III, King of Swaziland

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