By Staff Writer
The irony cannot be lost on many.
The dream of one man, who was recognised as among the diehard arch imperialists and all that he embodied, has been realized by one so diametrically opposed to imperialism, one who is an antithesis of colonialism.
Historically, we know that Cecil Rhodes and Xi Jinping may as well have come from different planets.
You are likely to remember Mr. John Cecil Rhodes; he of the Cape to Cairo railway ambitions.
Well, you may not yet ride in one stretch of rail from South Africa to Egypt, but you can do more than that now through railway transport.
There is more rail inter connectivity among countries in central and southern Africa for example, while the tonnage of bulk haulage carried by rail has increased to millions of tonnes over the years.
It is thanks to the Chinese who have filled in the gap for the railway network connectivity in areas where Mr. Rhodes merely dreamt of a rail line.
Before the advent of the Chinese, one could technically trace a rail line from South Africa to Egypt with some qualifications and gaps here and there, but that’s just about that: Technically.
Clearly, Mr. Rhodes would have been extremely un amused with the state of the railways not only from Cape to Cairo but even within the individual African countries.
By the time of Mr. Rhode’s demise, the Cape to Cairo line had only extended as far as the northern borders of then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Gradually, the line was extended to Chililabombwe in northern Zambia through to Kalemie in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The truly cross-continental rail connectivity to seriously provide a possible economic role in Africa started with the Tanzania –Zambia railway authority (TAZARA)-china’s first ever such undertaking in this sector.
This was the line from Dar es slaam to the central Zambian town of Kapiri-Mposhi where the original colonial line espoused by Mr. Rhodes links up to Tazara.
Under the East African Railway master plan, and other unilateral railway connectivity projects that the Chinese are undertaking in Central and Eastern Africa, the missing gaps to Mr. Rhode’s plan are being fulfilled.
So now, using part of the old colonial rail line from Capetown in South Africa, one would ride up to Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia then to Dar es slaam on the Tazara.
Unlike the vision of Mr. Rhodes for one single line, the so called ‘red-line’ to run from one point in the southern tip of the continent to the northern tip, the Chinese have built not one but several interconnected rail links to important trade and commerce hubs on the continent.
The Cape to Cairo line on its own is irrelevant now because the perception of Mr. Rhodes and others then is far removed from the realities, priorities, opportunities and dynamics that define Africa in the modern days.
East African countries under the northern corridor integration project (NCIP) have agreed that all lines already built and those on the cards will be built to the Chinese national railway class 1 standard.
The Dar es slaam – Isaka-Kigali/Keza-Musongati project will cover Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Uganda will be connected via the Kigali Kampala standard gauge line.
In turn Kenya will be linked to Ethiopia through the Nairobi-Addis Ababa rail link, Kenya will also be linked to South Sudan through the Lamu-Juba line or the Kisumu Juba line.
Ethiopia is linked to Djibuti through the 752 kilometre Addis a baba- Djibouti line which is already operational.
And of course from Juba in Southern Sudan, there is the old colonial line all the way up to the Egyptian border on the shores of Lake Nasser.
The old colonial line had proceeded from Dar-es-salaam, through Kenya to Uganda ending up at Gulu, a small northern Uganda town where the segment ended without crossing into the Sudan.
Southwards, the Chinese built rail linkages branch off into Zambia, Democratic republic of Congo and Angola.
In Zambia, the rail line has already been linked to Malawi which has gone on through to the line that runs up to the Mozambican port of Beira.
The old line from Zambia still runs into the DRC where it connects in that country to the Angolan line.
In Angola, the Chinese have completed the 1,344 kilometre Benguela line, the second longest Chinese built rail line after the Tazara.
The Benguela line runs through Lobito, Huambo, Kuito and Luau at the border with the DRC where it connects to the Katanga railway line
And, although this is in west Africa, the Chinese through the China civil engineering corporation have built the 1,315 Kilometre line from Indu, just out side the capital Abuja to Kano in the north.
And so, it is thanks to Xi Jinping.
Not only is there a rail connection that can now be traced from the South to the northern tips of the continent.
There is more; the African continent now enjoys far superior rail inter links than Mr. Rhodes could have imagined.