China’s role as the leading influencer on rail in Africa has taken a further step forward this week the official start of commercial operations on the 756-km electrified line connecting landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti on the east of the continent. This is a crucial link when you consider that more than 95% of Ethiopia's trade passes through Djibouti, accounting for 70% of the activity at the Port of Djibouti. This new line replaces a French built one that served the nations for over 100 years before being abandoned in the early 2000s. Built by two Chinese companies, the first 320 km from Sebeta to Mieso by the China Rail Engineering Corporation (CREC), while the remaining 436 km from Mieso to Djibouti port section was built by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
Tan Jian, Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, stated at the ceremony that he hoped the project would contribute to the industrialization and diversification of the Ethiopian economy, and also towards the country's growth and transformation plan.
"It is the first trans-boundary and longest electrified railway on the African continent. We, the Chinese, see this as earlier harvest project of the Belt and Road initiative. It is regarded by many as a lifeline project for both countries, for Ethiopia and for Djibouti. And we see this as a railway of development; as a railway of cooperation; and as a railway of friendship," he said.
The standard gauge railway provides both passenger and freight services between Addis Ababa and Djibouti and has been carried out with an investment of 4 billion U.S. dollars with China's Exim Bank providing the loan to cover it.
Djibouti Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mohamed Idriss Farah, said the railway project would have significant contribution to the economic integration between Djibouti and Ethiopia.
"This is important corridor, important railways between Djibouti and Ethiopia; we are working for our economic integration between our two countries. And this project was part of the economic integration, but not only economic integration but also connecting the peoples of Djibouti and Ethiopia," said the ambassador.
As previously covered on SmartRail World, Chinese rail growth in resulting in the investment of huge sums in infrastructure in Africa, with rail being among the prominent area of funding. And the Horn of Africa, is of particular interest to China, with Dijibouti the site of a military base operated by People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of the People's Republic of China – its first ever overseas military base.
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