Ethiopia's new coastal rail link runs through restive region

2016-10-06 06:05

iStock (iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Addis Ababa -  The timing is uncomfortable. One of Africa's best-performing economies on Wednesday launched its latest massive infrastructure project, a railway linking the landlocked country with a major port on the Gulf of Aden.

But it came just days after dozens were killed in anti-government protests in the region the railway runs through.

The new line between Ethiopia and the small coastal nation of Djibouti, the portal for almost all of Ethiopia's imports, is one of several high-profile projects that have attracted Chinese and Turkish investors, among others, as foreign investment climbed to more than $2bn last year.

But Sunday's deadly stampede brought international attention of another kind.

Anger in the Oromia region began a year ago, against a government plan to take farmland and incorporate it into the capital, Addis Ababa, to help shift the largely rural country's economy from agriculture to manufacturing.


The plan was dropped, but the protests have widened to demand wider freedoms and the release of detained activists and journalists.

The unrest has disrupted Ethiopia's business boom: In some cases, both foreign and local companies have been targeted by protesters who have accused them of government ties.

On Tuesday, Oromia's regional government said protesters attacked a cement factory owned by Nigeria's richest man, multibillionaire Aliko Dangote, in response to Sunday's deadly stampede.

While economic growth has slowed after averaging more than 10% in the decade through 2014, it has remained what the US last year called "impressive."

Ethiopia is set to become one of sub-Saharan Africa's four major manufacturing hubs along with South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, said Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner at Ernst & Young's office in Addis Ababa.

The new railway will help, he said.

The railway is a result, in part, of past unrest.

Ethiopia shifted its import focus to Djibouti after its border war with Eritrea between 1998 and 2000 created tensions that remain today.

Road traffic 

These days, more than 95% of Ethiopia's imports come through Djibouti port, the director-general of Ethiopia's Maritime Authority, Mekonnen Abera, told The Associated Press.

"This railway line will greatly reduce the travel time between the two countries and will contribute to the development of Ethiopia's hinterland," said Dereje Tefera, spokesperson for the Ethiopian Railway Corporation.

"It is an electrified system and environmentally friendly. This is what makes it different from other railway projects in Africa."

Officials hope the railway will help ease the notorious road traffic from hundreds of trucks that transport goods daily.

According to Ethiopian officials, the 656 km railway inside Ethiopia, constructed at a cost of $3.4bn, will shorten a three-day journey to just 12 to 15 hours.

The length of the railway line in Djibouti is 100 km, Dereje said.

Once the line is fully operational, it will be able to transport up to 5 600 people per day and carry up to 3 500 tons of goods at a time.

The railway section in Ethiopia, which was completed in three and half years, received 70% of its financing through China's EximBank while the Ethiopian government covered the rest.

Africa's biggest hydropower plant

Two Chinese companies were selected to carry out the construction, and the locomotives were imported from China.

During a recent tour for journalists, the Chinese conductors and attendants who will run the system for at least six months received their first guests with a smile.

Ethiopia's other infrastructure development projects are aimed at bringing in yet more foreign investment.

They include the Grand Renaissance Dam, which will be Africa's biggest hydropower plant.

And a year ago, the country completed Africa's newest light railway transit system that connects four parts of Addis Ababa. Another railway system is being built across the country by a Turkish company as Ethiopia aspires to link to connect to more of its neighbors by rail.

The large-scale projects do come with risks. A World Bank report released last month says Ethiopia "could see a notable increase in government debt as the government continued to borrow to finance an ambitious infrastructure program."

And the protests in Oromia and elsewhere are a growing concern for a country that has promoted itself to investors as "one of the most stable countries in Africa."

Read more on:    ethiopia  |  east africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.