KENYA AND ETHIOPIA INK 750 MILLION US DOLLAR ROAD DEAL
A new and closer strategic partnership is forming between Kenya and Ethiopia as a result of current and past developments in the wider region and in particular the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, now landlocked and the direct route to the former Red Sea ports of Massawa and Assab literally sealed off by a hostile Eritrea, depends almost entirely on the port of Djibouti for imports and exports and is seeking redundancy by establishing a second route to Kenyas Indian Ocean coast to avoid potential interference with the Djibouti to Addis transport corridor which is perilously close to Eritrea and prone to be struck with relative ease.
Kenya in turn is keen to develop a new seaport in Lamu for which it would need to generate sufficient cargo throughput of both imports and exports, and plans exist to link this new port by road and rail to the African hinterland as far as South Sudan and into Ethiopia, to ensure viability.
Much has been written here before over the proposed rail links, which should connect Juba and other parts of Southern Sudan with Lamu, and the branch line into Ethiopia to connect Addis Ababa by safe means to a friendly deep sea harbour.
What is on the drawing board now however is a major new network of roads and highways between Kenya and Ethiopia and earlier in the week the two governments put pen to paper to ink a deal worth at least 750 million US Dollars. Existing roads will be upgraded to bitumen standards, widened and strengthened for heavier loads, allowing cargos from Mombasa and Nairobi to reach Ethiopia and its capital Addis Ababa with greater ease.
When discussing the other option of Port Sudan as an outlet with a regional expert he had this to say: Djibouti for now is a safe bet and the port of Mombasa and later the new port in Lamu will also be relatively safe for Ethiopia. Strategic thinking comes into play here. Kenya and Ethiopia, while not having a trouble free relationship over cattle rustling, the incursions into the Turkana area by Ethiopian tribesmen and the issue over the Gibe 3 dam, which threatens the existence of Lake Turkana, the two countries have common enemies, common interests. Ethiopia has been at war with Eritrea and that country is now harbouring and nurturing terror groups which affect Ethiopia and Kenya too. Kenya was forced to go after Al Shabab and the moment that happened Eritrea sent supplies by air to Baidoa. Ethiopia suffers constant threats by the Oromo groups which are supported by Eritrea to needle Addis. As to Port Sudan, in theory yes but then, Khartoum Sudan has of late shown signs of getting more radical and they just opened a new road to Eritrea which was financed by Qatar. So Ethiopia could never be certain, never be sure of uninterrupted and unimpeded flow of goods to and from Port Sudan while, inspite of a few issues with Kenya, that country is considered a long term safe transit partner. And Djibouti is reliable for now, but expensive because they can exploit Ethiopias predicament. Therefore Ethiopia is internally already strengthening its domestic rail network and road network and if linked through such big projects with Kenya, even into South Sudan, those countries will be natural allies against what is generally considered very hostile neighbours. South Sudan wants into the EAC, Ethiopia is keen to join too, and once peace has returned to Somalia with a stable and friendly new government they may also want to come on board. North Sudan, inspite of what others say, is generally not considered as a prime choice for EAC membership, not unless there are very fundamental changes which is not likely and neither is Eritrea. The new partnership deal between Ethiopia and Kenya will benefit regional development, regional integration of the economies, travel and tourism. And most important, they have the support for such major infrastructure plans by the big powers, the US, Europe and even China which is busy trying to get the contracts to build such roads and rail networks.
Funding for the planned projects is due to come from a variety of sources and the African Development Bank is reportedly ready to support the financing with long term soft loans and grants which could kickstart construction of nearly 900 kilometres of roads and highways. Subject to raising all the funding the new links could be operational by around 2015.
Meanwhile has a source in Juba / South Sudan, also confirmed that talks are underway with Ethiopia over new road links connecting the two countries and in particular a rail link between Addis and Juba which could run parallel to a new highway, to allow for greater trade and commerce between the two partners. Watch this space as more news are becoming available on progress.