This month I had the opportunity to be at the two corners of the continent in the span of a week and it really got me thinking about the diversity of the continent, from architecture, to design, religion and so much more. The diversity in terms of the history, clothing and cuisine is also quite fascinating. However, we do have quite a lot that makes us similar and provides us with a common challenge. We all still deal with the reminisce of colonialism and its troublesome borders, difficult relations with neighbors, all of which affect how connected we are to each other.
I thought of Cecil Rhodes, the prime minister of the Cape Colony, part of Rhodesia in Southern Africa. He was an avid supporter of British Imperialism and as such had a “dream” to build a train from Cairo to Cape Town. His vision was to connect the entirety of British Colonies in Africa and build a train called the “Red” line that started in Cape Town passing through, Bulawayo, Livingstone, Kapiri Mphoshi, Dar Es Salaam, Mombasa, Malaba, Wau, Khartoum, Wadi Halfa, Aswan, Cairo and potentially Alexandria.
But Rhodes was not the only one, France had a rival strategy that entailed to build a train connecting its colonies in West Africa to the East Africa ones. The plan consisted of building tracks from Senegal to Djibouti, passing through Sudan and Ethiopia. The Portuguese also had a plan of building a railroad that connected their colonies, Angola and Mozambique, that they had dubbed the “Pink” line.
I remember reading about these train projects, especially how the British were in a position to fully build the Red line after the World War as they had taken what is now Tanzania from German colonials, providing them with the land to really connect their colonies. However financial troubles, including the great depression in the 1930s, created a funding challenge.
A few centuries down the road and connectivity is still a problem in Africa. Our governments are seeking funding for large infrastructure projects focused creating this much needed linkage. This month Ethiopia celebrated its Addis Ababa to Djibouti train becoming operational and taking on passengers. Although this railroad that existed in the early 20th century and was in operation for quite some time, it stopped for the past few decades. The newly inaugurated train connects Ethiopia to the ports of Djibouti, something that will be very beneficial to both countries.
My trip to Casablanca entailed a stopover in Europe as I travelled through Turkey. Reaching Morocco from within the African continent is not an easy fit and often requires traveling outside of the continent only to come back in. With its reintegration to the African Union, Morocco is promoting itself as the gateway to Africa for European companies looking to enter the African Market. I have no doubt that the country will have more flights linking it to all parts of the continent quite soon.
Connecting the continent is no easy challenge; however the Continental Free Trade Agreement, one of the largest free trade agreements in the world, aims to facilitate this connection by making trading within African countries easier through lower tariffs and easier movements. Although the reasons behind them were wrong, the idea of creating a railroad that connects Cairo to Cape Town, Dakar to Djibouti and Maputo to Luanda is only more pressing today than it was in the early 20th century. I wonder how long it will take us to make this happen.