China is both financing and building a new rail network in East Africa, and the country’s Prime Minister just signed a formal deal to start construction in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi this week. The BBC reports:
Construction work on the standard gauge line is expected to start in October this year, and the 610km (380-mile) stretch from the coast to Nairobi is due to be finished in early 2018. […]“This project demonstrates that there is equal co-operation and mutual benefit between China and the East African countries, and the railway is a very important part of transport infrastructure development,” said Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. […]It is to run from Mombasa to Nairobi and will extend eventually to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
That last extension makes this noteworthy. South Sudan is landlocked, and relies on pipelines through its northern neighbor Sudan to bring its sizable reserves of crude (the third largest in sub-Saharan Africa) to market. Ever since South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, oil flows have been disrupted or under threat of disruption.Beijing is one of the biggest investors in South Sudanese oil production, and it can’t be happy that the country relies on its belligerent neighbor to keep the oil flowing. China has tried to play peacemaker between Sudan and South Sudan, in an attempt to protect its investments there, but a new rail line would allow the energy-hungry Asian giant to bypass the conflict entirely. The project is still years away from completion, and East African railroads don’t exactly have a history of smart management. But China’s investment in this new line is yet another sign of the country’s willingness to involve itself in African affairs as it seeks a larger share of the continent’s natural resources.