Another African inroad for China – Ethiopia’s railway to the sea

It’s hailed as exciting news for Ethiopian businessmen and intrepid travellers who miss the romance of trains and railways – Ethiopia has unveiled plans to build a railway line linking its capital Addis Ababa directly with the coastal city of Djibouti, funded by China (who else?). The line will connect land-locked Ethiopia to a port, making it easier for Ethiopia to get goods out, and China to get goods in. By SIMON ALLISON.

Ethiopia desperately needs a fast, reliable link to the outside world. One of the largest landlocked countries in Africa, Ethiopia has long struggled to find a convenient, friendly port to get goods from its relatively lively manufacturing sector to international markets. That’s why the war over Eritrea was fought so viciously – for Ethiopia, the loss of Eritrea’s ports represented a serious existential threat.

The new railway to Djibouti fits in nicely with Ethiopia’s strategy of not keeping all its eggs in one basket, at least on the port side. Ethiopia is also putting its weight behind the construction of the Berbera Corridor, a substantial and expensive road-upgrade project linking it with the port city of Berbera in Somaliland.

The first phase of the new railway will take three years to build and cost a cool $1.2 billion. Not that Ethiopia will do any of the actual building or financing, of course. A Chinese company will handle the construction and the Chinese government will fund it.

Ethiopia already has a railway link to Djibouti, via the city of Dire Dawa, which was built at great cost (both human and monetary) during the old colonial period. But this has fallen into disrepair after decades of poor maintenance, and the walls of the wonderful old Dire Dawa train station are now used to project football matches rather than train timetables. DM

Read more:

  • Ethiopia unveils billion dollar rail project to Djibouti, in the Africa Review; and 
  • China to build the new Ethio-Djibouti rail route, on the Daniel Berhane Blog.

Photo: The colonial-era Dire Dawa train station will be bypassed by the new rail line to Djibouti, which will link land-locked Ethiopia directly to a major port. Claire Waterhouse.


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