On the Freedom Railway

After independence from Britain in the early 1960s, Tanzania and Zambia simultaneously embarked on a purportedly non-aligned, moderately socialist, and import-substitution-led path to modernization. Given the economic ideas prevalent amongst modernist leaders of the time, the state-led creation of basic infrastructure was considered particularly crucial in the endeavor. This was the context to the attempts of Julius (Mwalimu) Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda, the postcolonial leaders of Tanzania and Zambia respectively to create a rail network linking the two nations. For the former, such a network would bring regions in the interior to the country’s capital, Dar-es-Salaam; while landlocked Zambia was anxious to find a route to a port that did not cut across the White-settler controlled Southern Rhodesia or apartheid South Africa.

The two countries took their plans to the US and the USSR, looking for financial and technical support. Neither obliged, siting unfavorable cost-benefit analysis in one case, and insufficient diplomatic gains in the other.

TAZARA route [starts not from Lusaka, but Kapiri]

Meanwhile in China, after the disastrous  ‘Great Leap Forward’, Chairman Mao’s strategies to crush internal opposition through the Cultural Revolution were by now fully underway. Isolated at most international fora, China was more than keen to win allies and project a different image than of a country beset by hunger and violence. It therefore fully backed the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) venture, promising to build the entire network with a long-term interest free loan. Construction started in 1969 and operations began in 1976 from Kapiri Mposhi in central Zambia to Dar-es-Salaam, cutting through several districts, cultures, ecological and climatic zones.

In May 2008, on my way back home after a year of dissertation fieldwork in Zambia, I took the TAZARA from Kapiri to Dar. These images are from that unforgettable journey.

The journey begins at Kapiri station, few hours behind schedule

The journey begins at Kapiri station, few hours behind schedule

The TAZARA--full steam ahead

The TAZARA–full steam ahead

Tracks, made in China

Tracks, made in China

The landscapes of Northern Zambia

The landscapes of Northern Zambia

Shantytown on the outskirts of Nakonde, on the border. Officials from both countries get on the train here to check/give visa or stamp your exit

Shantytown on the outskirts of Nakonde, on the border. Officials from both countries get on the train here to check/give visa or stamp your exit

On board the TAZARA, one can gulp TUSKER beer while watching Nollywood movies

On board the TAZARA, one can gulp TUSKER beer while watching Nollywood movies

Looking over a Tanzanian town

Looking over a Tanzanian town

I shared the coach with a bunch of students in Lusaka dispersing to their homes for the summer. Bright, from Rwanda reads a newspaper here. In fact, we all got along so well that I ended up staying with Austin, another student on his break, at his home in Dar

I shared the coach with a group of students returning to their homes across the region for the summer. Bright, from Rwanda reads a newspaper here. We all got along so well that I later ended up staying with Austin, another student on his break, at his home in Dar

The second morning, you wake up in lush green surrounds of Western Tanzania

The second morning, you wake up in lush green surrounds of Western Tanzania

Local markets spring up along the way by the stations

Local markets spring up along the way by the stations

On the second evening, and a few hours before the destination, the TAZARA goes through the Selous Game Reserve. Here, one can catch glimpse of giraffes, elephants, and several herbivores from the comfort of the berth or better, the bar

On the second evening, and a few hours before the destination, the TAZARA goes through the Selous Game Reserve. Here, one can catch glimpse of giraffes, elephants, and several herbivores from the comfort of the berth or better, the bar

Final round of beer and discussion

Final round of beer and discussion

After the 48-hr journey, we arrived at Dar station. Built in typical Chinese railroad style

After the 48-hr journey, we arrived at Dar station. Built in typical Chinese railroad style

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