From rail to port, China’s influence on connecting the African Continent
Photo by: Financial Times
The expansion of China’s railroad infrastructure has connected the nation of 1.4 billion people to have access to nearly every corner of the middle kingdom. Reaching speeds of 350km/h, bullet trains have connected cities to allow travel that many find more convenient and efficient than that of air travel. The success China has felt through connecting its vast landscape with railway lines has also benefitted the African continent, as the engineering expertise in this industry has seen investments in Africa span across countries, aiding landlocked countries such as Ethiopia with access to port infrastructure. Railway infrastructure investment is key to the development of economic opportunities in Africa, but how have existing projects benefitted the African countries that have received these investments?
East Africa has already benefited from the investment Chinese banks had placed into the construction of two major railway projects. The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), built in Kenya by China Road And Bridge Corporation and financed by the Export-Import Bank of China, opened on the 31st of May in 2017. At a cost of USD 3.2bn, the SGR operates 30 freight trains and 4 passenger trains per day. Connecting the 2 largest cities in Kenya, the train exceeded passenger expectations, with over 2 million rides taken in the first 17 months of the train’s official opening. The second major railway project to benefit east Africa was the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway. Inaugurated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on January 1st 2018, the project provided Ethiopia, a landlocked country, with access to the Djiboutian port of Doraleh. With capacity reaching 24.9 million tonnes annually, the railroad project was accompanied by upgrades at the Port of Doraleh to expand existing handling capacity from 6 to 14 million tonnes.
Benefits of these railway projects were felt long before the respective projects had even been completed. Numerous jobs were created, from construction workers to engineers throughout the different phases. Working alongside their Chinese counterparts, capacity building and skills development create opportunities for African citizens beyond just that of access to advanced rail infrastructure. While countries like Ethiopia greatly benefitted from the expanded trade access the Port of Doraleh provided, the collaboration between China Railway Group Limited and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation conducting training for local employees to completely take over operations of the railway line, equipped with the necessary industry knowledge to ensure the railway continues to a successful tool for Ethiopian exports.
Export potential, job creation, and skill development are just some of the benefits Chinese investment into Africa’s railway infrastructure has done for the continent. Apart from providing access to new infrastructure, these projects may one day see Africa experience the interlinked and high speed success that China has accrued through its rapidly developed railway infrastructure.
“This article is produced by The Beijing Axis and is published in The Econometer section of ChinAfrica magazine (January 2020), an English and French language monthly publication that provides news, views and analysis on all things China, Africa and China-Africa relations.”