The Guardian is featuring today a series of articles on Ethiopia – 30 years later:
And, the last to pull into the station:
All good and stimulating stuff – not least the last feature by my friend Will Davidson. I’ve been really interested in the AA Light Railway ever since the huge works got under way, partly because of my participation in Hugue Fontaine’s book African Train, which recounts the building of the country’s first train line, which, starting in Djibouti, reached Addis Ababa in 1927 – more on that later on Uthiopia as the new Chinese built line which runs parallel to the old tracks has reached Mieso, that is to say the half way mark.
The other reason I like the new urban rail is simply that one, it’s exciting to see the city get its biggest face lift in fifty years (other important new features are the new roads and condominiums), and that two, the railway may even make a difference to the tens of thousands of commuters in Addis who not only have no alternative to the cramped and unsound minibuses that make up the majority of the city’s transport, but also have to wait for ever. Now, I used these minibuses myself for years and well know their dangers, and even their charms…
You can read about Ethiopia in a Blue and White Nutshell, in which I try to summarize the modern country in a minibus.
And here is a short video I took a couple of days ago, on the Light Railways project itself – which is not, as The Guardian’s sub-editor would have it, a ‘ monorail’ but a standard two rail line.
Ethiopia. In Meskal Square – The Square of the Cross – which has long been Addis Ababa’s spiritual and geographical heart – commuters form long queues to pile into communal minibuses. Not only are the minibuses cramped, they’re unsound and not even that cheap these days – Ethiopia, after all, imports all of its petrol and these imports are a heavy burden on the country’s foreign reserves.
But Ethiopia, the water tower of Africa – and one of the fastest growing non petrol economies in the world – has been building dams to harness its bountiful hydropower for a decade now, and cheap and abundant electric power is on its way.
The country and its capital are banking on this abundant electricity to provide a solution for Addis Ababa’s mushrooming population and an electric train is soon to surge through the city on this wave of cheap power. The two 17 kilometer lines join the eastern neighborhoods to the western hills; the northern historic town to the new southern suburbs. The train’s high aerial tracks, now nearly complete, cast a long shadow, of hope and trepidation, over the commuters queuing up on Meskal, where, symbolically, the two train lines come together in the shape of a cross in the Square of the Cross itself.