President Kenneth Kaunda (left of the two men) of Zambia and President Julius Nyerere (1922 – 1999, right) of Tanzania rest their feet on the sleepers of the new Great Uhuru Railway (later the TAZARA Railway) which links their two countries, during the halfway celebrations at Tunduma on the border, 6th September 1973. The railway was a joint venture between the two countries, financed by China. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

One of the marvels of the 1960s and 70s that to date still commands a measure of prestige is the Tanzania-Zambia Railways (TAZARA). Dubbed the Rainbow of Friendship, not only for its engineering genius that it incorporated but    was also at the time – the third largest single project by any foreign power in Africa after the Aswan Dam (Egypt) and the Volta Dam (Ghana).

The more politically informed may recall that Dr Kenneth Kaunda was turned down by the very people that are today championing anti-China sentiments-the West as he sought a solution to an easier way to export copper given the volatile political situation in Southern Rhodesia where Ian Douglas Smith had operationalized his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Dr Kaunda went shopping for a solution everywhere and was rudely turned down. Zambia was in a fix as even the Angola route through the Benguela Railway was not safe given the volatile political situation in that country.

The Benguela Railway was a possible choice of a route for copper exports however it ran through Angola which was a Portuguese province that was fighting an escalating war of independence against colonial rule and that line was often closed as a result.

So in 1964 Kaunda commissioned the World Bank to investigate the possibility of building a railway through Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika, which had gained independence in 1961) to the port of Dar es Salaam, on the east coast of Africa.

The Bank’s report found that the building of the railway was not an economic proposition and suggested building a highway instead. You heard that right, the ever patronizing World Bank proposed a highway instead! This did not satisfy Kaunda and he approached the western democracies to finance and execute the project. Only Britain and Canada showed an interest and followed up with an aerial survey jointly undertaken and although the scheme was considered to be viable from an engineering standpoint, it failed to gain sufficient financial backing. This was a blow to Kaunda, who was a West leaning moderate, but things had already come to a head over Rhodesian UDI the previous year and Zambia was forced to choose its stance, which was to become a front line state against the White supremacists to the south.


Having failed to get a donor from the West, President Kaunda travelled to Peking (now Beijing) during June 1967 and received an offer from the Chinese to finance and build the TAN-ZAM Railway as a “turnkey project”.

Zambian and Tanzanian Ministers flew to Peking and on the 5th September 1967 and formally signed a deal with the Chinese.


Few developmental projects have been so highly politically charged as the TAN-ZAM Railway as the international repercussions reverberated far beyond the borders of the two states concerned.

White controlled southern Africa and the West saw the project as an attempt by China to subvert Southern and Central Africa. That is all they saw after having turned KK down. By the way KK is still alive to tell his story which he has repeatedly shared with the world several times before.

In fact the Chinese did not seek immediate political gain out of the venture.

By not making any political demands China gained considerable prestige and goodwill in Africa and when the project was completed two years ahead of schedule its prestige was further enhanced.

Peking called the Railway a “Rainbow of Friendship” and it helped to align Tanzania and Zambia with China in the Third World bloc.



The Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority was established in March 1968, with survey and design work being carried out by the Chinese between October 1968 and May 1970. In July 1970 China offered an interest free loan of Yaun 988 million (around US $ 500 million) to be repaid in thirty years, which would cover the costs of construction, supporting infrastructure, motive power, rolling stock and staff training.


  1. Albert

    What were the comments when China offered the Loans to Zambia and Tanzania to build the railway line?
    Did they accuse China of trying to colonise Zambia and Tanzania?

    • Jomo Kanyanta

      To answer your question even though I sense rubbish in your tone the answer in No one accused China for colonialism, because at the time transparency was there for everyone to see, and China then was not the greedy China we know now, chairman Mao was very stick and anti-corruption, who killed by firing squad if anyone was found wanting corruption.. dummer

      • Iwe ubufi

        What you are forgetting is China has not changed. It had a plan and the plan has just fruitified. Unlike you Zambians who couldn’t sustain any plan. Even right now China s plan is not to colonise Africa. These are words being used to demonize Chinese aid by Europe which knows they resonate with Africans.

    • Musonda chalwe

      So you Albert are not seeing anything wrong with the way pf is allowing the Chinese to literally take over. No one is saying we can’t get a loan from China but certainly not at this rate. This is sleepwalking into Chinese colonialism. Ask yourself why the Chinese are not even exercising control on their lending. Because they know what to get from in return. Just to remind you, Pf in the beginning disliked the chinese with a passion. What has changed now?

  2. Ben Shaft

    Good piece of Economic history to show where we have come from the the ChineseIts only that our Zambian educated have failed to run TAZARA PROFITABILITY.That’s where the shame lies.It is likely that they will also fail to manage the roads that the Chinese are now building.

  3. Zambian

    Cograts to KK for the initiative, and i would have loved to know the Minister who traveled to China to seal the deal. Nganya aba abanomba nga kulyamo and that rail line was going to be just a mess. But these guys worked for the people, today they are Woking for personal gain, wherever you see a complex of mansions ninshi sha ma Ministers. The lands that KK reserved for various reasons have been taken away, pali ama upstairs yama Politician. Shame on you. Come back to your sense and be like those poor Ministers who worked very hard but died very poor unlike you who are busy change expensive posh cars, which are bought from our little taxes that us the poor are contributing.

  4. Zambian

    Mr Shaft its not that they have failed to run the rail line Papa, bukabwalala ebulelenga.

    • Ben Shaft

      Thanks for that other perspective.I agree with you that leadership should be for the service of people,not greed.

  5. kapola

    The most dull analysis I have ever seen, who says the chinese are bad for zambia, the current situation where the chinese are re-colonizing Zambia through debt is bad. Go apply your mind not wasting our time with propaganda.

  6. Jms

    It too much due that they have forgotten that they are inventors now they are going to sale in MARKETS as country men and women sailing chickens, clothes, groceries etc in the end they may enter Taverns shame and the second thing is the government they should utilize their money/power wisely. Government to blame

  7. Mk

    Don’t be left out, Chinese are every where especially in Africa.

  8. Truth man

    There’s nothing wrong with Chinese people coming to Zambia and do business in Zambia. How about other foreigners who are in Zambia doing the same?We have Congolese, Zimbabweans,Angolans etc who are all over Zambia and doing business but people are only victimising the Chinese why? Let us be fair and be grateful to the Chinese people. These people have really helped us and they are still helping us.What is wrong with some Zambians? I think some people are just jealous when they see how the Chinese have helped to develop this country and my appeal to them is to shut up and let the country move forward. If you have failed to make it in life because you used to refuse to go to school and you are now failing to make ends meet you can go to hell and burn. Zambia shall still remain.

  9. Thanks


  10. Makeni boy

    Tel them ba Truth man,maybe banganvesese,no wondr there is a saying,”Empty tins make 2much noise”0sapala chusi muzipala mulilo,ba zed.

  11. Jms

    No more arguments we just go for (impeachment) it has been said that never argue with a fool so let as be so because these people are poor lawyers so be careful when you come across these mad lawyers

  12. Jms


  13. Bs

    Thanks,only a fool can’t learn from history, hence can’t understand the present

  14. Daniel

    I hope the others are also interest free loans too! Are they?

  15. Cornelius

    Zambians shouldn’t turn their anger on the Chinese, but should strive to emulate and learn from the Chinese people, starting from work culture, technology, patriotism and determination. CHINESE BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES. ZAMBIANS TOP BEING CRY BABIES CHINA IS A GOOD PARTNER, all we need is to put our foot down and regulate Chinese activities in Zambia so that they don’t exploit us.

    as for the western countries , they are the waste hypocrites who have no kind intentions for Africa.

  16. Shaka

    A bad carpenter blames is tools. I believe in every sector of our global village, there must be a leader. Dr Kenneth Kaunda and all our founding fathers, lead this nation by example; they were not as selfish as these leaders we have now. People are in offices just to enrich themselves and not to serve the people. Yes, Chinese are hard working, so are the Zambians; all Zambians working under the supervision of the Chinese are hard working; so everything is centred on leadership. Dr Kenneth Kaunda was a tough leader.

  17. Zuan d'Artigne

    So, has TAZARA proved economically viable?
    Cut out the kak.

  18. Dylan Chanda

    Now I realized that kk was lite reason y he left the companies full operate, but look at now all huge companies they av sold including u Shaka think muchimpompo chako

  19. Spoiler

    Of course it is viable, when it operates.


    If we follow the West’s rheotics, we shall never develop. Zambia is a model of raising up from pure poverty to a middle class nation with visible infrastructure, thanks to Chinese Investments. the IMF and World Bank have devoured Zambia since independence. All we had were dusty compounds and charred roads. Look today! should any right thinking zambian oppose Chinese help? Sure?
    How can zambia fail to repay loans, when a mare 3 square km of uranium madden land in western province can generate a trillion dollar return in only a month? We have what china wants. China have what we want. lets trade 50-50

  21. Dylan Chanda

    Kanyini u re lite

  22. Skynet p51


  23. ben

    Wow sir

  24. wamuyayaya

    We are in a different time with politicians who have mindsets of thieving and plundering everything in their path.That is why Chinese are committing all sorts atrocities on their workers because they know that money will protect them from facing the law.The Zambia of today is a proper shithole only God can save this forsaken nation.We should just lead our pathetic lives and wait for the time because surely time will tell .

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