Built in China, paid for by China, built by Chinese, operated and maintained by Chinese — news media reports often describe the newly refurbished, high-speed Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway as a project in which China is fully vested.
But China didn’t finance the entire railway. The Ethiopian section of the line cost $3.4 billion, and China Exim Bank provided 70 of the financing, according to Railway-Technology.com. The Ethiopian government paid for 30 percent of its section. The Djibouti Government contributed $878 million for the project.
If this is true, African countries financed about 45 percent of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway.
“Chinese-built and -financed Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway, the first electrified railway in Africa” — that’s how Global Times describes the railway.
In fact the railway connecting landlocked Ethiopia with Djibouti Port opened in 1917. It provided Ethiopia with a major cargo entry point, but deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance and management.
Chinese government-sponsored contractors will be in charge of maintaining the refurbished railway, at least for six years. China Railway Group Limited and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation won the bid to operate and manage the railway. After that China will continue to provide two years of tech support.
A team of about 1,000 Chinese are in charge of the operation. In Ethiopia, more than 2,000 locals have been trained as drivers, stewards and maintenance staff in preparation for the gradual handover.
The refurbished railway line started operating in 2016. There have been several inaugurations. The most recent one was held Tuesday — “an important milestone for China’s burgeoning influence in the region,” South China Morning Post reported.
The 750-kilometer (466-mile) line is expected to reduce travel time between Addis Ababa and Djibouti Port from three days by road to 12 hours by train.
Nearly 90 percent of Ethiopian trade passes through Djibouti. Ethiopian trade accounts for 70 percent of Djibouti’s overall port activities, IB Times reported.
“It is the first time China has exported an entire railway industrial chain,” Global Times reported.
China is involved in infrastructure projects in at least 35 African countries, including railways in Kenya and Nigeria, Global Times reported.
A surge in anti-Chinese violence forced the Kenyan government to halt construction on a $13 billion railway project after Chinese contract workers were attacked and accused of taking jobs from local workers, IB Times reported in August.
Fourteen Chinese nationals employed by Chinese contractor were injured Aug. 2, according to the report:
China’s increasing presence across the African continent has led to social conflict, and Professor Richard Aidoo believes the root of anti-Chinese populism in Africa stems from the fear that China’s financial capital and labor “competes with African development efforts.”
Research by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong found that 80 percent of employees at 400 Chinese enterprises and projects in 35 African countries were locals, according to IB Times.
Economic developments in Africa like the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway have triggered concerns that China is following in Western footsteps with colonial aspirations, South China Morning Post reported.
Such concerns are “ridiculous,” said Aden Ahmed Douale, counselor to the president of Djibouti.
“You cannot trade without infrastructure,” Douale said Tuesday. “The European countries didn’t want to help the African countries develop their infrastructures and their economies, only the Chinese did. It’s too bad for the Europeans, but it is good for China and it is good for Africa.”
Here are some things you need to know about the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway line modernization, according to Railway-Technology.com:
- It’s is the first modern electrified railway line in East Africa.
- It’s jointly owned the governments of Ethiopia and Djibouti with construction by China Railway Group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.
- The first freight services on the line began in November 2015.
- The line was formally inaugurated for passenger services in October 2016.
- The railway connecting Ethiopia with Djibouti via Dire Dawa is a 780 kilometer gauge line opened in 1917.
- Modernisation involved replacing the meter-gauge section with a 1,435 mm gauge line, and electrification at 25kV. Designed to accommodate trains travelling at 120 kilometers an hour, the new line was constructed in compliance with Chinese electrified railway standards.
- Chinese staff will manage operations on the line for five years. Local employees will be given specialist training on the operations.
- Construction on the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway project began in 2011 and was completed in October 2016.
- It involved laying double track for the first 115 km from Addis Ababa to Adama, and single track for the remaining 600 km to Djibouti. The construction employed approximately 20,000 local workers in Ethiopia and 5,000 in Djibouti.
- CSR Zhuzhou was awarded a contract to provide three passenger and 32 freight electric locomotives for the Ethiopia-Djibouti line in June 2014. The rolling stock consists of first and second-class coaches, dining cars and potentially sleeping cars.