How Chinese-built railway is shaping integration in the Horn of Africa

Chinese and local staff during the inauguration of the new train line linking Addis Ababa to the Red Sea state of Djibouti on Wednesday. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya - The recently concluded Addis Ababa-Djibouti Standard Gauge Railway has been linked to the booming of trade and regional integration across the Horn of Africa, further promoting cooperation among nations.

Participants including officials and independent experts who attended a seminar earlier this week discussed how Africa's first fully electrified transboundary railway contributed to regional integration and the betterment of communities along the way.

Dagmawit Moges, Ethiopia's minister of transport and logistics, said the 752-km railway which was a flagship project of Belt and Road demonstrated that African countries can make tremendous progress by improving infrastructure.

"While building our prosperous Ethiopia, we will engrave in a cornerstone of our friendship and the unreserved support we receive from our sister country China in turning our dream of having a modern standard gauge rail line into reality," Moges told the high-level seminar.

The Addis Ababa-Djibouti electrified railway, also known as the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, was contracted by China Rail Engineering Corporation (CREC) and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), is the first trans-boundary railway on the African continent.

Semereta Sewasew , Ethiopia's State Minister of Finance stressed China's role in supporting African countries' development aspiration on win-win modalities.

The state minister, in particular, stressed China's "willingness to engage in areas of cooperation that some development partners are reluctant, mainly in large infrastructure projects."

Zhao Zhiyuan, Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia, also echoed Moges' comments, stressing that the Addis Ababa-Djibouti rail line is a lifeline to landlocked Ethiopia.

"The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, as a flagship project of China-Ethiopia cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has made important strides in all aspects since starting operation more than four years ago," the Chinese ambassador said.

The electrified railway has cut the transportation time for freight goods from more than three days to less than 20 hours and reduced the cost by at least one-third.

Zhao said the railway has been a way of development, driving economic growth and industrialization, and serving as a lifeline of transportation for essential goods such as fertilizers, grain, cement, steel, and anti-pandemic materials.

"The Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway is a flagship project, and it is really unique in its kind in Africa, which brought three countries together in one platform to work together -- Ethiopia, Djibouti, and China," said Tilahun Sarka, general manager of Ethiopia-Djibouti Standard Gauge Railway Share Company (EDR).

According to figures from the joint venture, in 2021, the railway's monthly transport revenue exceeded 9 million and 10 million U.S. dollars in October and November respectively, the best result since 2018. The transport revenue in 2021 is 37.4 percent higher than in 2020.

The railway has also created numerous job opportunities for locals, with more than 4,000 locals employed so far, which accounts for over 90 percent of the total staff.

Participants at the high-level seminar further emphasized the crucial importance of the China-Africa cooperation under the BRI in terms of boosting infrastructure development across the continent.


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