China eyes East Africa's rail network expansion

Tuesday January 11 2022
Envoy pic

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the Ministerial Roundtable in Mombasa where several bilateral agreements were signed between Kenya and China on January 6, 2022. PHOTO | NMG

By Agencies

 Nairobi. China is proposing a grand infrastructure plan for the Horn of Africa that would involve expanding the two major railroads and developing ports on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Under the proposals, announced during last week’s visit by China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway in Kenya will be extended to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and eventually to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Meanwhile, the line linking the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with Djibouti would be extended to Eritrea - but both plans will only happen in “due course”. Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
Wang also called for faster development of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to develop a framework of “two axes plus two coasts”.
“This is part of our effort to help this part of the region to accelerate the building of industrial belts and economic belts to create more jobs,” Wang said at a briefing with Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo in the coastal city of Mombasa on Thursday. Besides Kenya, Wang visited Eritrea, which occupies a strategic location on the Red Sea and signed up for the Belt and Road Initiative in November, and Comoros, an archipelago on the Indian Ocean where China has been increasing its footprint under its Maritime Silk Road, the seabourne part of the BRI.
Wang’s visit may help revive plans to extend the Mombasa-Nairobi line to Malaba on the border with Uganda, which stalled after China’s Export-Import Bank asked Kenya in 2018 to redo a study to prove its commercial viability.
China is making inroads into the Horn of Africa and has already invested heavily in Djibouti, which is home to its first overseas military base. Further investment in ports in the region may prove crucial to the success of the Maritime Silk Road.
Seifudein Adem, a professor of global studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, said a proposed rail link between Addis Ababa and Assab, a port in Eritrea, may be the winning card in China’s new diplomatic strategy in the Horn.
Adem said:”Since Ethiopia is already linked to Kenya through a transnational road system, it is conceivable that the entire Eastern and Central African region would be interconnected before very long, with the other regions to follow.”
Adem said the expansion of rail networks in the Horn of Africa has been one of Beijing’s main strategic objectives in Africa as a way of boosting connectivity. (South China Morning Post)