Foreign Policy Blogs

Railroads in Ethiopia

I talk to cab drivers in D.C. It’s part of the reason I take cabs instead of the Metro sometimes, I like hearing where they’re from, what brought them to the U.S. and what they think about current affairs in their home countries (especially the Africans). And, since living in Ethiopia, there’s the added inducement of getting to practice my Amharic and making the cab drivers fall over themselves laughing at the little white girl in the back trying to pronounce the words correctly. Last year I met an Eritrean guy who gave me a Bible in Tigrinya and several cabbies have offered to lease me their houses if I ever go back to Addis. Or they just ask me to marry them.

Anyway, this weekend I was in a cab with an older guy from Addis who was telling me that the Chinese have recently agreed to build two railroads in Ethiopia: one from Addis to Djibouti and one from Southern Sudan to Addis. This is interesting- not the rail to Djibouti especially (that road is a deathtrap and it would be far more efficient to have a train) but the rail from Southern Sudan to Addis. There is a lot of speculation that the Chinese will vehemently oppose the secession of Southern Sudan in January 2011 because if South Sudan seceeds it will be much harder for Chinese oil companies to get oil from the south to the Port of Sudan in the North — but if this rail is built, they could potentially get the oil out through Ethiopia, making pipelines through Sudan’s new border (or new civil war) unnecessary. Snea-ky.

So far, the government of Sudan seem supportive of this rail project, quoting the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) chairman as saying, “when functional, the railway system would, “enable the nation to transport 6 million tones of freight which in the past has only been impossible by truck.”” (HAHA…”when functional”…)

Though much as been said about the benefits the new rail system would provide, none of the news reports seem to include the rail line to Southern Sudan that my cabbie mentioned. I don’t know if his information is accurate, but if it is it could have major implications not only for economic development in the Horn but also what will/might happen after Sudan’s referrendum in 2011.



Keena Seyfarth

Keena Seyfarth is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, getting a combination Masters degree in International Health and Humanitarian Assistance at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and International Development and International Economics at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. She has lived much of her life in rural Africa, and traveled extensively through southern and eastern Africa. She recently returned from six months in Ethiopia, where she worked for the public hospital system.