Book Review : A Monument to China-Africa Friendship: Firsthand Account of the Building of TAZARA Compiled by the Department of Policy Planning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples Republic of China; World Affairs Press (2015); 257 pages.
Running 1860.5 km from Tanzania’s Dar-es Salaam in the East to New Kapiri Mposhi in Central Zambia in the West, the TANZAM Railway (TANZAM is interchangeably used with TAZARA -Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority) is the main rail link connecting Eastern Africa with the Central and Southern parts of the continent, and is widely regarded by Africans as the Railway of Freedom and Railway of friendship. Ironically the TANZAM railway has contributed to colonialist Cecil Rhodes’ vision of a Cape to Cairo rail-link.
This book is divided into three parts which are subdivided into chapters. The first part is devoted to accounts of individual in the Peoples Republic of China who participated in the building of the TANZAM Railway. In this part, the book gives the reader rare insights into the thinking of China’s major leaders of the time, namely late Communist Party of China(CPC)Chairman Mao Ze Dong and late former Prime Minister Zhou en-Lai. The individuals whose experiences are chronicled are highly credible; such as Zhou Nan former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peoples Republic of China (PRC), Sun Yongfu, former Vice Minister of Railways of China and Liu Zhiming, former Chairman of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
The second part conveys the personal experiences of Tanzanian officials, an entrepreneur and narrations of former staff members of the Railway Authority. Key Tanzanians who offered their recollections on the building of the TANZAM Railway are Benjamin William Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Salim Ahmed Salim, former Prime Minister of Tanzania and the longest serving Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (1989-2001).
The third and concluding section surveys the reminiscences of key Zambian payers who played significant roles in the drama that surrounded the building of the railway, whose magnitude could only be rivaled by the Soviet built Egyptian High Aswan Dam(A Monument to China-Africa Friendship: Firsthand Account of the Building of TAZARA, 48). The preeminent actor was Zambia’s founding
President, Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda. Dr. Kaunda’s account of the factors and forces that compelled him and his Tanzanian counterpart, the late Julius Nyerere to turn to the PRC are well complimented by Zambia’s former Foreign Minister, Dr. Vernon J. Mwaanga A recurrent theme that runs through all the recollections in the book is that Zambia was a hostage state prone to political manipulation by the settler racist regimes on which Kaunda was inordinately dependent for Zambia’s external trade. All authors point out that this was the prime motivation for construction of the Uhuru railway. Zambia needed an alternative route to the ocean in order to enhance Lusaka’s political, diplomatic and economic security.
All the contributors show unanimity and consensus in regard to the hostility of the major Western powers vis-à-vis the building of an alternative route to the sea for Zambia because that would enable Zambia to more forcefully support the Black liberation movements in Southern Africa. It was this Western hostility to the concept of an alternative rail link to connect Zambia to the port of a brotherly African country which convinced Presidents Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda to turn to the Peoples Republic of China for assistance in building the TANAM rail link. By turning to the Peoples Republic of China, Kaunda and Nyerere became potent symbols of the new Africa; An Africa seeking to assert itself in the framework of the evolving Non-Aligned Movement(NAM) in the late 1960s and 1970s.
When one reads this book which is written in a very reader friendly anecdotal prose, one realizes that the Peoples Republic of China made enormous economic and human sacrifices to build the TANZAM rail-link. Zhou Nan, former Vice Foreign Minister of the PRC recalls Chairman Mao Ze Dong’s words to President Nyerere; ‘You have difficulties, so do we. But your difficulties are different from ours. We will still help you build this railway even if that means we won’t be able to build railways on our own land (A Monument to China-Africa Friendship, op.cit,9). Premier Zhou-en Lai once said, ‘what the Western imperialists refuse to do, we will help you do. And as long as we decide to do it, we will do it well.’
A Monument to China-Africa Friendship Road accidents took a heavy toll on Chinese workers who perished because of the poor state of the Great North road, Zambia’s sole link to the Indian Ocean port of Dar-es-Salaam. Thus; Chinese President Xi-Jinping, on 25 March 2013, during a State visit to Tanzania paid tribute to the ‘Chinese heroes who through sacrificing their precious lives, far from their homes erected an enduring monument to China Tanzania and China-Africa friendship’ also reveals to the reader the enormous personal sacrifices made by Chinese workers who worked on the rail-line made, shoulder to shoulder with their Tanzanian and Zambian brothers. The working groups comprising Chinese and African workers opened up thick virgin forests and were faced by wild animals and snakes in very harsh weather conditions.
This book is very easy to read and has many pictorial illustrations to show the immense physical challenges that Chinese engineers and their African counterparts had to surmount to build the TANZAM rail-link. The pictures in the book clearly show that prior to the building of the Railway, Zambia was truly hostage to the machinations of racist settler regimes and their western backers during the bipolar world of the Cold War.
By Dr Njunga-Michael Mulikita
Dr. Mulikita is a Senior Lecturer in the Dag Hammarskjöld Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies (DHIPS) of the Copper belt University (CBU), Kitwe, Zambia. Dr. Mulikita has since 2012 participated in meetings of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum (CATTF) and his papers have been published in CATTF Reports.