News24

Bridge unites Mozambique

2009-08-01 21:04

Maputo - Three decades after work began, Mozambique on Saturday inaugurated a $113m bridge over the Zambezi River, a major link for a country long divided between north and south.

President Armando Guebuza, for whom the bridge has been named, said at the ceremony it was a symbol of national unity and the realisation of a long-delayed national project.

"The history of this bridge is almost as old as our national independence, and you could say it has suffered the same vicissitudes," Guebuza said.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso sent a message, hailing the 2.5km bridge - one of Africa's longest - as a boost to the country's development.

"The completion of the Zambezi bridge allows a more efficient contribution to the development of commerce, and national and regional integration," Barroso said in a statement read at the ceremony.

The idea of building the bridge dates back to the 1950s when Mozambique was under Portuguese colonial rule.

Civil war

But the country's 10-year war for independence followed by 16 years of civil war derailed the project for decades.

The Mozambican government began work on the bridge in 1977, two years after independence, but soon had to abandon construction as civil war enveloped the country.

The war between ruling party Frelimo and rebel movement Renamo split Mozambique largely along north-south lines, a divide that still troubles the country.

Until Saturday, traversing Mozambique from north to south meant taking a ferry across the gap where National Highway 1 meets the Zambezi River.

The line for the ferry sometimes stretched a kilometre in each direction. Travellers could lose two or three days waiting for their turn to cross.

The bottleneck reinforced Mozambique's north-south divide, and the improvised cities that sprouted at the river as truckers lined up to cross became a focal point in the country's raging HIV/Aids epidemic.

Officials hope the new bridge built at the centre, between the provinces of Sofala (south) and Zambezia (north), will help Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, overcome the difficult geography that has at times hindered its development.