Update on Tanzania

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Cement scalpers in Tanzania have been threatened with jail time for hoarding cement! The country faced a shortage of cement and other building materials in October 2020 and Prime Minister Kassim Majawali ordered an investigation into the issue following the conclusion of the presidential election earlier that month. Both regional commissioners and the National Prosecution Service have been dragged into the initiative. Director of Public Prosecutions Biswalo Mganga promised to local press that wrongdoers could face up to 30 years in prison for daring to hoard products or distort the market.

Rhetoric aside, the situation is curious given that HeidelbergCement’s local subsidiary, Tanzania Portland Cement, seemed to think in its 2019 annual report, that the country faced a 5Mt/yr overcapacity from integrated and grinding plants compared to a total production base of 10.6Mt/yr. However, the East African newspaper reported that despatches fell to 150,000t in October 2020 from 450,000t in September and August 2020, with a 30% surge in the price in some parts of the country.

In the wake of this, Dangote Cement apologised publicly for failing to communicate a planned stoppage at its Mtwara plant to the wider public. Tanga Cement then denied that its production was down. It said instead that production was at the highest level and that large chunks of its output was servicing government-backed infrastructure projects like the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and the Kigongo-Busisi Bridge, which will span the southern end of Lake Victoria. It also blamed a lack of trains on the Tanga-Moshi, which was reopened in mid-2019. It seems reasonable that cement prices might vary quite markedly, even before the profiteers got involved, due to the reasons above. Other issues locally include poor transport links, long distances in a country like Tanzania, the recent election and lingering hiccups from the blockage of imports from Kenya in 2018 that may not have helped either. The investigation continues.

A wider issue here is how much cement production capacity the country and the region can support given a propensity for spikes in prices. As Global Cement has covered previously (GCW456 and prior issues) Chinese producers have been heading into Sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade. Huaxin Cement bought ARM Cement’s assets in Tanzania in May 2020. It renamed the company African Tanzanian Maweni Limestone and then started trial production of clinker at the newly upgraded 0.75Mt/yr Maweni Limestone clinker plant in July 2020. Depending on how long ARM Cement’s former subsidiary was out of action, this one seems unlikely to rock the market too much. Tanga Cement also took the opportunity in November 2020 to say that talks with the government about a new 0.5 – 0.75Mt/yr grinding plant in Arusha were progressing

The proposed 7Mt/yr CNBM/Sinoma ‘mega’ plant is another matter entirely. Most of its output is intended for export but any disruption to local transport links, current or future, could swamp the local market. The export of Chinese infrastructure development around the world through its loan system could offer (occasionally literal) bridging solutions here as cement from a Chinese-backed factory is used to build the transport networks backed by Chinese loans that allow exports to proliferate. Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s comments that the poor terms for a US$10bn Chinese loan supporting a port project could “…only be accepted by a drunken man,” may not have helped international diplomacy. Still, Chinese money is actively getting things built here and elsewhere around the world at a rate previously unheard of.

Returning to the present, it makes a change to highlight a market where cement is truly demanded. A coronavirus-related lockdown may have slowed sales in the first half of 2020 but Dangote Cement estimated that the total market for cement in Tanzania was about 4.2Mt in the first nine months of 2020 and it reported its highest ever orders and dispatches in September 2020. That the country’s prime minister decided to discuss cement prices is a reminder of how important the commodity remains in parts of the world.

Last modified on 02 December 2020

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