KASAMA, Zambia－For many cross-border traders in Zambia that conduct their businesses between Zambia and Tanzania, the trains of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) are the most affordable means of transporting both goods and people.
The TAZARA railway line, which runs between Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia, was built with Chinese aid in the 1970s. It was meant to serve as the main outlet to the sea for Zambia’s exports at a time when southern Africa was facing political upheavals.
Among the many that continue to benefit from TAZARA train services is Agnes Mumba, 42, a cross-border trader based in Kasama, the provincial capital of Zambia’s Northern province.
Mumba trades in household goods and clothing and has been using TAZARA trains for all the 15 years that she has been a cross-border trader.
“I use the TAZARA train every time I travel to get merchandise from Tanzania. It is the most affordable mode of transport that has enabled me to maximize profits,” she explained.
Mumba was at a TAZARA train station in Kasama where she was waiting to board a train to Nakonde, a town located near the border of Zambia and Tanzania. She said TAZARA trains have helped to boost businesses in Zambia.
While a substantial number of people use TAZARA trains for business, some said the train services are the only reliable means of transport that enables them to get from one town to another. This is particularly true in the northern part of the country plagued by poor road networks.
“We have challenges getting to Kasama town and other areas, particularly during the rainy season, as the roads become impassable, making it difficult for public transport to get to our place,” said Mukuka Bwalya, 61, a resident of Makasa village in northern Zambia.
Bwalya said the train is not only affordable but also safer compared to other transport means.
“The train costs about three times less than buses. One is also able to carry a lot of luggage without being charged exorbitant fees. The TAZARA railway line is a lifeline for many in Zambia,” he said.
Bwalya’s sentiments were echoed by Joseph Banda, 52, a resident of Nakonde in Muchinga province of Zambia, who added the railway line is a reminder of Zambia and Africa’s history, which would be incomplete without the mention of China.
“It is good to note that the TAZARA railway line is still very useful despite being constructed over four decades ago,” Banda said.