DJIBOUTI DESPATCH | INTERNATIONAL
(The Hindu) --
Nizar Manek, 19 May 2019
Due to electricity shortages, the railway could be blocked for a whole day of operations
The train had crossed the frontier on Chinese-built rails between Ethiopia and Djibouti. Barren escarpments and acacia trees were flowing past the windows. Behind lay Ethiopia and a disclaimer at the ticket booth warning passengers to travel at their own peril. Funded by China’s Exim Bank for $4.2 billion, this is Africa’s first electrified railway, except that it is not really. “Look at the electricity shortage: the train could be blocked for a whole day of operations,” Djibouti’s Finance Minister Ilyas Dawaleh told this writer in his office in Djibouti City.
In January, Mr. Dawaleh said, operations were halted for half a day when a train was blocked by protesters amid conflict on the border between Ethiopia’s Afar and Somali States. Ethnic Afar feared Somali annexation of villages. “Everyone’s taking hostage of the infrastructure,” Mr. Dawaleh said. Besides the Ethiopian unrest, nomadic people demanding compensation for run-over camels too were not factored into a feasibility study Exim Bank approved for the over 700-km Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway in 2013, before disbursing the loan ($490 million) for Djibouti. In April, an Ethiopian freight train skidded off the tracks. Revenue forecasts for the railway, meant as a pivot for Ethiopia’s export-oriented industrial development dream, have been cut to a third against the feasibility study. The track remains incomplete in both the nations and the railway transports only one commercial train a day, not three as planned, said Ahmed Osman, Governor of Djibouti’s Central Bank.