After three years of construction, Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa-Djibouti electric railway was on the 5th of October finally set into full swing at its inaugural ceremony. The multibillion dollar investment has breathed life and excitement into Ethiopia and Africa as a whole as it glows with the radiance of a prospectively multi beneficial enterprise. Ethiopia, Djibouti and Africa stand to benefit a lot from the launching of this railway, which was constructed by Ethiopians in conjunction with Chinese.
The 4 billion dollar railway was built partly by the China Railway Group in association with the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, and boasts an incredible length of 752,7 km with a designed speed of 120 km/h when it is lugging freight and 160 km/h if it is serving as a passenger carrier. Built with a dependency on local labour and foreign expertise, the rail is the first of its kind in Africa and has put Ethiopia on the map turning it from a landlocked country to an officially land linked domain.
Benefits to Ethiopia and the contient as a whole
The railway is expected to boost greatly the economic growth of Ethiopia and that of Djibouti, an international shipping port by which Ethiopia imports and exports its produce, specifically food and energy. The introduction of this rail threatens to do away with transportation costs that have plagued the Ethiopian populace since the old locomotives installed during colonial periods lapsed into dilapidation. For years now, imports and exports to be made through Djibouti were totally dependent on the highway, which meant a seven day trip to or from the maritime port that was often plagued by frequent bouts of heavy congestion (90 % of Ethiopia’s imports and exports are made through the seaport of Djibouti). Efficiency is also going to see a drastic improvement with the time taken to get to and from Djibouti being cut from seven days to a mere 10 hours.
Through the new machinery, there is bound to be an increase in trade between Ethiopia and the likes of Europe as maritime shipping has been given a great nudge by the advent of the Addis-Djibouti rail. China's development of a 7 billion Djibouti free trade zone stands to benefit Ethiopia greatly and it is likely that with transportation costs slashed greatly, Ethiopia once subtly marginalised due to its famine and war status, is now on the road to becoming an irresistible trade centre. With regards to Turkey, it also means that Ethiopia is going to get a boost in trade as Djibouti is Turkey’s main entry into Africa as described by Djibouti's finance minister, Ilyas Dawaleh. There is now greater chance of conducting business in high value imports like fruits, vegetables and flowers, which makes a link with the Middle East ever more alluring.
Minister Workineh Gebeyehu at the 8th Ethio-Djibouti Railway Project Joint Commission meeting stated,
"It is difficult to think of rapid economic development, industrialization and international competitiveness without efficient, high quality and modern transport infrastructure."
The development of the rail has resulted in the new railway being recognised as one of the Knight Frank’s top global infrastructure projects as it is going to greatly affect all business within a 60 km radius of the Ethio-Djibouti corridor. Rapid economic development has already begun for Ethiopia, thanks to this gigantic leap into the world of effective transportation.
Roughly 40 000 jobs were created during the construction along with the passing on of skills necessary to operate maintain and possibly construct more railways like this. The lack of skilled personnel at the construction site and the unfeasibility of importing Chinese labour into the region led to the employment of 40 000 locals and training of around 15 000 of the same so as to cover the wide labour gap. This employment and training has imparted on Africans the expertise needed to boost related industry in their countries of origin. The railway through its mere construction has already boosted the socio-economic status of Ethiopia and Djibouti, and it is going to serve as a training ground for African states to train their own personnel and introduce similar developments into their territories and possibly create efficient rail links between African states. In relation to skills training, Ethiopia has ambitions to put into place a Railway Academy of Ethiopia for skilled railroad professionals; here people will be trained to be engineer’s managers and technicians. This was highlighted in one of Ethiopia’s Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA’s) along with this Ethiopia hopes that by 2020 all railways in Ethiopia will be built by Ethiopians.
Is it Sustainable?
With an aim of maintaining and keeping safe wildlife and keeping within the bounds of sustainable development, the Ethiopian government during construction put into place a high environmental protection protocol. The construction was done in such a way so as not alter the natural environment much. More than $4 million was put into place to build overpasses for safe animal passage.
Ethiopia has set the bar very high and is seemingly asking Africa to follow it on the road to sustainable development. With plans set to be achieved by 2020 if all goes according to plan, Ethiopia and Djibouti are likely to become trade capitals in Africa, with the advent of cheap, reliable and efficient transport that the Addis-Djibouti rail has brought.