Chinese-built railway aids Tanzania's trade aspirations
Tazara was not the first construction work China carried out in Africa, but the symbolism of China-Africa friendship during hard times created by this railway is irreplaceable and has been treasured by the two peoples for nearly half a century.
It played a vital role in breaking the economic isolation of the east African country and building bridges between countries at the time, but it also suffered a negative effect later because of the country's controversial mismanagement.
"We could see the significance the railway could play in the future and we have never left," said Wang Lei, general manager of China Civil Engineering Construction Corp in East Africa, whose predecessor was the foreign aid office of the Ministry of Railways of China in the 1960s and 70s, which built this railway over a 10-year period.
He said 15 training programs have been accomplished since the completion of the railway in 1976. His workers have conducted maintenance work, including installing spare parts, providing carriages and funds, transferring technology as well as training staff.
Several leading companies and research institutes have been appointed by the Chinese government to investigate the current condition of the railway with a view to updating it.
Today, not far from the terminal of this railway in the streets of Dar es Salaam, Chinese and Tanzanian flags hang along the roads and huge signs are set up with a Chinese man's portrait and the word "Welcome" in Swahili. He is the man who might bring in more Tazara railways and also more investment and opportunities to this region over the next few years — the newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is making his first visit to three African countries as president.
Visiting Africa has been a tradition for a new Chinese leader to show friendship and comprehensive interconnectedness, but this time Xi is not just coming as a gesture but with a program to tackle many challenges that lie ahead for the two nations.
Integration, industrialization, peace and security, as well as sustainable development, are all buzzwords in African countries. They also could be the guidelines for China's engagement in Africa if China wants its interests there to be more efficient and sustainable.
Luckily, China has never been the sole dominant force in this relationship and has shown a strong willingness to support Africa's own agenda. But where this relationship is leading depends on the extent to which both sides can achieve mutual benefit across all fields.
China is not the only international player in Africa. Traditional players from the West still have a huge impact on Africa's social progress. Competition also comes from emerging markets such as India and Brazil, which is a good thing for the continent because it gives Africa more leverage in choosing what really benefits it.
To solidify its achievement and role in Africa, China should continue being a strong supporter of African home-grown solutions and "African dreams", say observers.
For instance, as deeper integration among African countries utilizing a more connected continental transportation network has risen to the top of the agenda of many governments that want to enhance intra-border trade and communications, China and Chinese companies are eager to join these efforts to further support Africa's aspirations.
"We have signed three Memorandums of Understanding with the Tanzanian Transportation Ministry to build other railway arteries in this country," said Wang.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org