China announces rail and port infrastructure development plans for Horn of Africa

China has proposed a detailed infrastructure plan for the Horn of Africa region, involving the development of railways and ports.

By Chriselle Moraes on
13th February 2022

Under the proposed infrastructure development plan, two major railroads will be expanded and ports will be developed on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, announced the proposals during a visit to Kenya in January (2022).

The plan includes extending the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway in Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and also to The Democratic Republic Of Congo. The plan also includes extending the railway line linking the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with Djibouti to Eritrea.

Speaking at a briefing in Mombasa, Kenya, Mr. Wang Yi stated that the plans will take place in “due course”.

Mr. Wang Yi 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," said Mr. Wang at the briefing in Mombasa with his Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo.

The Chinese foreign minister had earlier visited Ethiopia in early December last year and Eritrea in early January, before his trip to Kenya. The three are countries in the Horn of Africa region. Eritrea, which is strategically located on the Red Sea, signed up for the Belt and Road Initiative in November 2021.

Mr. Wang also visited Comoros, an archipelago on the Indian Ocean, where the Chinese footprint has been increased through the Maritime Silk Road which is the seaborne part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

There are also plans to extend the Mombasa – Nairobi railway line to Malaba on the Ugandan border. This project was stopped in 2018 after China’s Export-Import Bank asked Kenya to redo a study demonstrating its commercial viability.

China has also made significant investments in Djibouti, where China constructed its first overseas military base. Further investment in regional ports will help in the success of the Maritime Silk Road.

Commenting on China's new diplomatic strategy in the Horn of Africa, Seifudein Adem, a professor of global studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, 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. According to Adem, the proposed rail link between Addis Ababa and Assab, a port in Eritrea, may be the winning point in China’s diplomatic strategy.

Also commenting, Deborah Brautigam, a Professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University and founding director of the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI), said Wang's comments that it will happen in 'due course' suggests "it depends on African governments creating the conditions (peace, stability, realistic feasibility studies) that will allow Chinese capital to be employed productively and sustainably,"

Top Photo: Addis Ababa Light Railway Bridge Structure (Derejeb | Dreamstime)

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