Last week, photos went viral on social media depicting the sorry state of an airport built in Chongone, 30 km away from the Gaza provincial capital of Xai-Xai – the airport has become yet another white elephant.
Inaugurated in November 2021 by Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, the brand-new eponymous airport has a 1.8 km runway, and an apron to dock four Embraer 170 airplanes, and with a capacity to serve 220,000 passengers per year.
Built by Chinese constructors, the airport cost $60 million. At the unveiling of the aiport, Nyusi said that “the sustainability of Gaza airport will not be guaranteed by tourism alone. We did not make the airport only for tourism.”
Then Transport and Communications Minister Janfar Abdulai said that “the potential of the province leaves no doubt that this airport is viable.”
Almost a year and a half after its first flight, the Filipe Jacinto Nyusi Airport is anything but viable. Much like another airport build In the northern Nampula province, in Nacala, the Gaza airport has become a monument for hubris.
The first sign came when Mozambican Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) said in May 2022 that the airport cannot accommodate international flights, putting a dent to international tourism optimism.
Furthermore, flights tickets are deemed to be prohibitive for most of the people. And it does not help that the airport is 233 km from Maputo, hardly four hours away, which most are happy to do.
Consequently, and because there is little demand beyond the one flight per week, the airport is essentially empty. The only restaurant that serviced passengers and companions has closed its doors. Management have been asked to find ways to make the airport sustainable – this is almost the same pattern seen in the Nacala airport, which is currently running at four per cent of its capacity.
Thanks to the Brazilian “Lava Jacto” (Car Wash) anti-corruption investigation, we now know that Brazilian construction company Odebrecht made illicit payments to Mozambican authorities between 2011 and 2014 for the construction of the airport.
Meanwhile, Mozambique is still saddled with about $73 million debt from the initial $150 million investment into the building of the airport.
Before construction works started, analysts predicted that the Gaza airport would become another white elephant, and at current evidence, this has come to pass. It never made sense economically.
At the opening of the airport, Nyusi argued that it had been built with money donated by China. But as there are no free lunches, Mozambique will end up paying one way or another.
As things stand, contracts have been awarded to Chinese companies to mine heavy sands in nearly all Gaza and Inhambane pristine beaches, which have been designated for heavy sands mining for titanium. In April 2021, one Chinese company was stopped from destroying the dunes on the coast at Chongoene. Clearly, Mozambique is likely to pay the environmental cost for this political hubristic monument.
Indeed, prior to the construction of the airport, was the only province without one. But Gaza is also a Frelimo stronghold, and elites there pressured Nyusi to build an airport for them. As he needed their support, he succumbed to pressure and here were are with a white elephant.
And as always with Mozambique, nobody will ever be held accountable for this monument to hubris.
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