Following a few months of testing on the Ethiopian side, the China-funded and built railway linking Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa with the strategic Red Sea port of Djibouti was officially inaugurated in Djibouti on Tuesday.
The new 750km railway line turns a week-long drive through a winding pot-hole filled road into a smooth 12-hour ride to the coast. The project, backed by $4 billion of Chinese investment, is expected to be a boon for the economies of both African nations. Landlocked Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing markets in the world, gets access to the sea, while the tiny country of Djibouti gets easier access to 94 million Ethiopian customers.
Last October, Xu Shaoshi, head of China’s top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, gave a speech at the railway’s inauguration ceremony in Addis Ababa acting as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official envoy. Xu hailed the project as “a railway of Sino-African friendship in the 21st century.”
It replaces an old diesel railroad line started by the French in 1894 that had fallen into disuse and disrepair after years of war and famine. It also marks the second time that China has built a trans-national railway through Africa. The last one was the Tazara Railway connecting Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam with Zambia’s Kapiri Mposhi in the 1970s.
We likely won’t have to wait 40 years for another one. South China Morning Pot reports that this could be just the first stage in an ambitious trans-African track that would link the Red Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.
In the meantime, the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway serves to signify China’s continued investment on the African continent. Perhaps no where is this investment more evident than in the burgeoning manufacturing powerhouse of Ethiopia. In 2016, $20 billion of Chinese investment poured into the country which is fast trying to change its global image from a country filled with drought and famine to one that is filled instead with factories and railways — recently attracting no less than Ivanka Trump’s shoe manufacturer to move shop from China to Addis Ababa.
Furthermore, according to AFK Insider, Ethiopian Airlines is in the process of adding a direct flight to Chengdu, its fifth non-stop flight to a Chinese city, and Ethiopia is working on launching a civilian satellite into orbit with the help of China.
Meanwhile, the tiny East African country of Djibouti is home to China’s first overseas military outpost, a naval base that Beijing insists is only a logistics hub for China’s naval and trade presence in the Gulf of Aden.
Matt Bonini contributed to this story