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.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.