12 May 2018

East Africa: Railway for Regional Integration of the Horn

One of the agenda discussed by Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed during his state visits to Sudan and Kenya were integration of the countries with railway routes. Indeed the issue of linking coutries of the region with railway line is a vital issue as it plays an all rounded role in socio-economic and political development of the region.

Railway transport has a history of more than a century in the Horn of Africa. Among the oldest railway lines of the region is the Ethio-djibouti railway line built during the colonial period. The old age train lines become shifting and expanding currently by the sovereign countries of the horn aiming at mutual economic development based on win-win strategy.

Ethiopian Railways Corporation Communication Service Head Dereje Tefera stated that "Railway transport is the back bone of developed countries economy. It is the main source of development for the developed world and it carries their economy even at this time. The newly developed countries are also busy in expanding railway transport nationally and regionally, such as china and Brazil."

According to Dereje railway transport is incomparable with other transports for economic development and for regional integration since it carries bulk of freight and passengers with in short period and low price. It is cost effective, cheap and fast. It facilitates people-to-people relations within and beyond borders of nations. It also strengthens both import and export trades nationally and regionally. Even though, it is costly in building, it delivers indispensable service for a long period of time, he added.

According to Dereje, it is obvious that it has a clear advantage for the horn region to facilitate regional development, to strengthen people-to-people relations and for diplomacy.

Lying in the epicenter of the horn region Ethiopia has a plan to build railway projects linking with neighboring countries of the horn region. So far it has built and launched the longest Africa's electric railway project which connects it with Djibouti, the Ethio-Djibouti railway line.

It also has a plan to build new railway lines from Mojjo-Shashemene-Hawassa- Moyale to link with Kenya, the Sebeta-Ambo-Jimma line to connect with South Sudan and from woldia-Bahir Dar-Worota to connect with Sudan.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir also announced, in January 2018, plans to build a railway system linking Sudan to Ethiopia and South Sudan. Kenya also wants to connect its railway line with Ethiopia from the port of Mombasa.

The expansion of railway infrastructure has a big role for regional economic integration, diplomacy and people-to-people relations, Dereje stated. For example, the Ethio-Djibouti railway cuts the 3-day long journey to 10-12 hours, which facilitates the trade relation and movement of peoples between the two countries. This strengthens brotherhood relations among the countries and between the people.

Similar to the Ethio-Djibouti, it is also clear that if the transport infrastructures expand among each countries of the region, the countries under instability may also become to peace and focus on economic development. Dereje states "absence of infrastructural development and Unemployment are among the reasons for instability within countries, so infrastructural expansions create new jobs for the youth.

This has a big role in creating peace and development within nations, to regions and at the continental level. The African Union also gives emphasis in building the rail transport in Africa that plan to build railway line from Djibouti port to the port of Dakar which crosses more than ten countries."

According to the Communication director not only railway but also all big mega projects, before starting building the projects, there is a feasibility study and preliminary design. So, the security issue is one among the concerns of preliminary study of the projects.

Nationally, strengthening the relation between the projects and the people is the best mechanism to protect the security of the railway, now government is implemented. Government focuses on the people, since it is built for the advantage of the people. But, at regional level, governments and foreign affairs of the concerned countries sign agreements before the beginning of the projects. After the accomplishment of the agreements between state governments, the project starts. This agreement includes the security issue of the projects. So rail transport is safe and secured and there may be no threat because government gives big attention.

The Ethio-Djibouti railway, the longest electrified railway line in Africa, started operation in January 03/2018 both passengers and cargo services with 1171 trains, 41 locomotive and 1130 wagons. 1,100 of the Ethio-Djibouti trains are cargo service trains.

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