The launch of the Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway has shown China’s special position in the modernization of Africa’s infrastructure, Kenyan scholars have said.
“The launching of the Ethiopia-Djibouti standard gauge railway line is expected to spur similar efforts of Africa to link the continent more effectively with an efficient railway transport network, which could be what Africa needs for close integration and expansion of intra-Africa trade,” Gerishon Ikiara, an international economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
The fully electrified Ethiopia-Djibouti railway links Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti. It was built by Chinese companies with the help of funding from a Chinese bank.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Djibouti’s President Omar Guelleh presided over the launch of the 752.7km Ethiopia-Djibouti railway on Oct. 5. The Ethiopian premier said the electrified rail helped cut travel time between the two countries from seven days to just 10 hours.
Ikiara, who was Kenya’s vice minister of transport, said the completion of the railway line was a major milestone in the modernization and expansion of transport infrastructure in Africa.
“It is expected that the Chinese influence in Africa’s development is going to rise rapidly,” he said.
“The emerging dominance of China in Africa’s development is leading to increased competition for Africa’s infrastructure financing and construction works,” he said.
The scholar said the railway line would help boost the development of the two countries.
“The collaboration between Ethiopia and Djibouti in the successful implementation of the project is historic and is expected to have huge impact in these two neighbouring and currently highly dynamic economies in Eastern Africa,” Ikiara said.
“The launching of the line significantly increases the areas in Africa in which modern efficient standard gauge railway infrastructure is available,” Ikiara said.
Macharia Munene, a Kenyan international relations scholar, said the inauguration of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway was a major step towards the realization of the “infrastructural opening up of the African continent”.
Munene said the new rail was an effort to accelerate the movement of goods and lower the cost of goods in landlocked countries across Africa.
Chinese firms had built modern railway lines in Angola and Nigeria and are constructing the Mombasa-Nairobi railway in Kenya, which is expected to extend to other East African nations.
The first phase of the China-funded railway in Kenya will link the port city of Mombasa to the capital Nairobi.
Munene said he expected the rail to link Kenya with neigbouring Ethiopia in the future, enhancing regional integration and offering southern Ehthiopia access to goods from the sea.
On his side, Ikiara said the launch of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, was expected to push other African countries to implement modern railway projects.
“The project is expected to restart Africa’s long desire to create a comprehensive network of rail, road, maritime and air transport systems.” Ikiara said.
China’s engagement has dovetailed with a broad African infrastructure development plan, with the ultimate target being a modern railway network connecting each and every African capital.
Munene said the Chinese efforts towards the modernization of the railway network in Africa were something that no other major power did in the past.
The construction of a series of railways and road networks is part of broader cooperation between China and Africa in Africa’s industrialisation and development.
“China-Africa cooperation is based on perception of mutual interest that is realism and this is likely to continue,” Munene said.