Chinese built railway opens linking Ethiopia to Djibouti

October 5, 2016

Africa, Did you know?, International

Chinese built railway opens linking Ethiopia to Djibouti



ADDIS ABABA- African people cherish a dream that one day the capitals of all African countries will be linked by high-speed railways, Chairperson of African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma once said.

Perhaps, the African people have never come closer in their endeavor towards making the dream a reality.

On 5 October 2016, Africa’s first modern electrified railway — the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway built by Chinese firms, is set to become fully operational.

With the inception of what has been hailed as the “Tazara railway in a new era”, a new chapter will be turned over in Africa’s railway history, while a new milestone will be set up in China-Africa traditional friendship.

During a visit to Ethiopia in May 2013, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang hailed the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway as the “Tazara railway in a new era.”

In 1970s, China, where a thousand things still waited to be done, resolved to support the construction of the Tazara railway which links Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam with Zambia’s Kapiri Mposhi. More than 50,000 Chinese railway workers worked for construction of the railway. Among them, 64 Chinese experts made the ultimate sacrifice in a land far away from home.

But Tazara Railway has since become a symbol for China-Africa friendship which opened a new era of development for China-Africa friendly relations. China has since put on top agenda its assistance to African countries in building infrastructures.

He who wants to get rich must first build roads. This is one of the key lessons China has learned after realizing rapid economic development following decades of reform and opening up to the outside world. China is willing to share the lesson with African countries so that they will get rid of the bottlenecks that have been holding back economic growth for centuries.

In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the new concept of “building nests to attract phoenix” and “teaching them how to fish” in China’s cooperation with Africa. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also proposed that China and Africa work together to develop the “Three Major Networks” — railway, road and regional aviation.

With sincerity and good faith, China is helping African countries to boost infrastructural construction, promote Africa’s inter-connection and integration process and help Africa realize independent sustainable development.

It is against this historic backdrop that the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, which links Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with the port of Djibouti, comes into being as an early fruitful result in China-Africa cooperation in building the Three Major Networks and driving industrialization. Thus, the railway, following its predecessor Tazara Railway, has become another symbol for China-Africa friendship.

Built in 1970s, the Tazara Railway played a major role in the socioeconomic development of Tanzania and Zambia. As the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway commences operations, it will avail landlocked Ethiopia a precious access to the sea, greatly improving its logistics capacity. On the other hand, the small, resource-poor Djibouti will have a chance to realize its ambition to become a regional transport hub.

The railway’s operation will also help boost economic growth along the railway, speed up urbanization, create jobs, improve people’s living standards and promote socioeconomic sustainable development.

The Ethiopia-Djibouti is built with a complete set of Chinese standards and equipment. During the process, a great number of Ethiopian and Djibouti technical and managerial personnel received systemic training in Chinese railway technical knowhow, paving the way for the development of their own railways by the two countries themselves.

It is foreseeable that more and more African countries will improve their understanding of and finally accept the Chinese railway standards, pushing forward their own railway development, which in turn will speed up their industrialization process.

Besides, the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway is also expected to give impetus to the economic development of East Africa and even that of the whole Africa. African countries will have a new engine for economic growth.

Give a man a fish and he eats a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime. The railway’s two contractors — the China Railway Group (CREC) and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), have attached great importance to the training of local railway talents.

Li Weidong, a senior engineer of CREC, told Xinhua that an international training center at CREC has organized nearly 100 African railway officials and technicians for training programs in China. Trainings are also offered at all levels, covering the complete spectrum of job titles in the railway industry.

Li disclosed that CREC is helping Ethiopia in planning for Africa’s first railway institute, where Africa will be able to train its own railway talents.

CCECC Ethiopia manager Li Wuliang said that his company is now focusing on the training of Djibouti technicians in the field of railway operation and management. Since June 2015, 94 Djibouti students with academic credentials above undergraduate have been sent to China for half-year training programs in railway technology.

After the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway’s official operation, a consortium of CREC and CCECC will manage its operations for six years, during which the Chinese firms will teach the Ethiopian and Djibouti staff knowledge in railway operation and management, including the maintenance of the railway systems.

Six years later, the consortium will hand over the operation and management to the two countries, which means they will be in charge of running the railway independently.

Chinese railway construction workers have sacrificed a lot for building the railway. No one can tell how many of them had lost precious gatherings with loved ones, lost health and even life.

On March 27, 2013, Zhang Peng, a 33-year-old CREC engineer who only got married half a year ago, was the first fallen hero while working for the railway’s construction, when a sudden flooding swept him away. Two years later, on July 2, 2015, Yang Hongwei, a 31-year-old site manager, made the ultimate sacrifice in a flooding, leaving behind a son less than four.

Colleagues of the fallen heroes told Xinhua that Chinese firms have taken various measures to ensure the safety and security of their staff working in Africa, with their living and working conditions now far better than that of their predecessors during Tazara railway’s construction decades ago. However, they said despite all security measures, zero casualty is something that is impossible to avoid.

Long gone are the Chinese fallen heroes who had fought for Africa’s railway dream, but the railways they had built with sweat, blood and life will signify the everlasting friendship between China and Africa, which both the Chinese and African peoples will treasure forever.


Addis Ababa
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