China and Ethiopia, Part 1: The Light Railway System

There are numerous examples of the successful and tangible manifestations of China’s Africa policy all across the continent. Two recent projects have placed a spotlight on Ethiopia, where the Chinese presence is overwhelming: the first modern light railway (tram) system of sub-Saharan Africa in the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Addis–Djibouti railway, connecting the landlocked country to the maritime trade routes of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. In this two-part analysis, we evaluate these Chinese investments after visiting these projects in January 2018.

The light railway system in Addis Ababa provides unusual scenery, a unique example of mass public transport in sub-Saharan Africa. The image of elevated tracks implies a vivid, developing, and growing country, and it is easy to see why Ethiopia’s decision makers wanted to build it. But behind the curtain, the elevated tracks have not made life better for many Ethiopians.


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