Text: | Print|

China-backed rail project vital for African infrastructure

2014-05-15 08:09 Global Times Web Editor: Qin Dexing
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

One of Africa's greatest curses has been the lack of an efficient internal transport infrastructure. In fact, in many places road and rail transport nets have been little improved since they were first constructed for European colonial interests. These elderly systems, in some cases over a century old, have also suffered from a lack of effective maintenance in the decades since, resulting in inadequate transport capacity and a legacy of unsafe operation.[Special coverage]

It is in this context that we must see the agreement between the China Road and Bridge Corporation and the government of Kenya to create a standard gauge railway that will link the port of Mombasa to Nairobi. The Chinese government will invest over $5.2 billion for the railroad's construction, which is expected to be completed by 2017. Ultimately, this railroad will be joined by other standard gauge railroads that are expected to form a modern rail transportation network for much of East Africa.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this development to Africa's economic growth. Not only will this project increase the ability of Kenya and other East African nations to effectively participate in international trade, it will also drastically improve their internal economies. This boost in income will result in an increased ability to invest in other local commercial interests, which will help improve the overall economic situation in East Africa.

However, this is not an act of charity. China well understands how important having an effective and up-to-date transport infrastructure can be to a nation's economic development. In fact, China's domestic railway network is planned to reach 120,000 kilometers of track by 2015. By assisting East Africa to develop a modern railroad infrastructure, China will reap massive benefits from expanded trade and investment opportunities in these nations and potentially set the model for a modern Africa-wide rail net.

This agreement is especially important when compared to the normal pattern of aid to Africa. In many cases, foreign aid has been poorly directed and in fact often undercuts local economic development. Without any effective ways to measure progress, it often appears as if foreign aid to Africa is a never-ending process.

This contributes to "Africa Fatigue" on the part of potential public and private donors who fear that things will never improve. Unfortunately, in many cases, these aid programs set themselves up for failure by having vague and overambitious goals.

In comparison, the standard gauge railway project benefits from having a tightly focused objective with easily measurable standards for success. Rather than attempting to change Africa, it works with the strengths of Africa. By improving the capacity of the transport networks linking the port of Mombasa with the rest of Africa, this project will encourage the growth of internal and international commerce alike.

This contrasts with widespread view that traditional forms of aid have completely failed in Africa. A common criticism is that aid plans are often drawn up by officials living thousands of miles away who have little or no understanding of the situation they are hoping to solve. In other cases, aid money was provided to corrupt government officials, who squandered it on their own needs.

The collaboration between China and Kenya solves both problems. In the first place, the need for the railroad is clear and agreed upon by both China and Kenya. Secondly, the benefits from the construction and operation of the railroad will be spread across the entire regional economy.

However, one of the greatest advantages of this agreement is that it makes a break from the common practice of treating the people and nations of Africa as little more than children. Many aid programs have made the error of assuming that Africa, despite its bounty of natural and human resources, will never be more than a helpless recipient of foreign aid.

But the China-Kenya agreement links China and Africa as two equal partners in a project that will benefit both. It does not treat Africa as a helpless recipient of aid, but as an excellent investment opportunity that will equally benefit both Africa and China.

The author John Eddington is a political writer based in Southern California.

Comments (0)
Most popular in 24h
  Archived Content
Media partners:

Copyright ©1999-2018 Chinanews.com. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.