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On the road to transition

Updated: 2013-02-22 11:35
By Li Lianxing ( China Daily)

 On the road to transition

A file photo of China Wuyi Kenya Co Ltd's highway project in northern Kenya. Provided to China Daily

Chinese construction firms tackle the toughest parts of the A2 highway

Landlocked in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is severely hampered in its trade and business by a lack of transport links with other countries.

Apart from air travel, the country has been heavily reliant on the road to the Republic of Djibouti in the northeast, which requires ships to cross the Gulf of Aden, increasing time, costs and the risk of pirate attacks.

Further south, however, lies one of the busiest harbors in Africa, Mombasa, which has a good highway link to Nairobi. And now, in a bid to build a more integrated market and smoother network, another artery is being constructed along the Great Rift Valley to link the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with Nairobi.

"The A2 highway project is designed to connect the most two important cities in the region," says Liu Hui, chairman of China Wuyi Kenya Co Ltd. "The whole project is divided into several parts and my company took the part from Turbi to Moyale, on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya."

He says to fully integrate the region, developing the infrastructure network should be prioritized. Like Ethiopia, there are 14 other landlocked countries in Africa that are "isolated from the world markets and suffer high transit costs, which seriously constrain their overall socio-economic development", according to a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

The report says transport costs for these countries are on average as high as 77 percent of the value of exports, and this erodes their competitive edge and trade volume.

"African countries have different development levels, which means their domestic infrastructure conditions vary as well," Liu says. "To facilitate the market and communication among countries, roads and railways should connect them."

When this happens, he adds, capital, trade and natural resources can start flowing.

His company has been building infrastructure in Kenya for more than 10 years, he says, but in recent years, there has been a surge in cross-border construction projects.

"Much regional construction work is under way, especially roads within the Eastern Africa community, like the roads connecting Kenya and Uganda and the Lake Victoria ring road," Liu says.

Different African countries have partnered with UNECA, the African Development Bank and the African Union to build the Trans-African Highway network (TAH), also known as the "Trans-African Corridor", which originated in the early 1970s.

When completed, the nine trans-continental highways with a total length of 59,100 kilometers will provide "as direct routes as possible between the capitals of the continent; contributing to the political, economic and social integration and cohesion of Africa; and ensuring road transport facilities between important areas of production and consumption", according to a report by the ADB and UNECA.

At the very beginning of this millennium, "about a quarter of the TAH network consists of missing links and the costs of completing the TAH were estimated at about $4.2 billion".

Regarding the A2 road between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, both countries concerned are keen to improve trade and connect people, but major obstacles - many concerning logistics and the harsh natural environment - stand in the way.

"Although it's an international road project, its owners are two governments with distinct institutions and systems," Liu says. "Only after the roads are connected at both ends will it be a complete road. Otherwise it will be sporadic series of domestic highways."

Even within one country different parts are constructed by different companies at different speeds and they have no idea when other parts will be finished, let alone the construction on the other side of the border, he says.

"However, if one company has a chance to operate a cross-border project, it will save a lot on the costs of surveying and equipment," he says.

A2, Liu says, is divided into five parts to be built by different companies at various times. After completing the first contract of the project last year, Wuyi's second contract began in January.

None of these sub-contracts is a cross-border project as each government pays for and monitors the sections within its border.

Yu Lei, deputy manager of China Wuyi, says its contract is worth 12.06 billion Kenyan shillings ($145 million), with 91 percent coming from the ADB and the remainder from the Kenyan government.

Construction of the 130-kilometer road is expected to take three years, after which the company is responsible for another two years of maintenance.

Few companies were willing to carry out the construction work because of the tough natural environment in the region. Existing roads were unusable over any significant distance.

"Our part in northern Kenya is the hardest part of the whole project as there is no water, no usable soil and no logistics supply," says Li Shoujie, deputy director of Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction (Kenya) Co Ltd, which is responsible for another part of A2 project.

He says his team used the most advanced technology from China to locate three water sources along the route to enable construction and house workers. The boreholes will be left for the local people when they finish the project and new communities are expected to form along the completed road.

"People might have tried to build a road before but were daunted by the tough environment, but one virtue of Chinese companies' is endurance, so we have to make this vision come true," he says.

However, for sections of the A2 road from the Kenyan border to Addis Ababa, there is no completion schedule.


(China Daily 02/22/2013 page6)

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