Laying the Tracks: The Political Economy of Railway Development in Ethiopia’s Railway Sector and Implications for Technology Transfer

Image: Flickr, 
Michael Gwyther-Jones
Image: Flickr, Michael Gwyther-Jones

Following the international surge of Chinese capital and companies in the last decade and the rise of the Belt and Road Initiative, many African countries have sought Chinese financing and technology for significant infrastructure investments.

Railway construction is one manifestation of China’s economic statecraft in Africa and a sector that African leaders have eagerly leveraged. This paper examines the case of Ethiopia’s Chinese-financed railway projects, including the Addis-Djibouti Railway, contrasting it to Ethiopia’s experience with subsequent European/Turkish financed projects. Through the lens of African agency, the case shows the opportunities, missed and taken, by Ethiopian actors in leveraging external partners, focusing on areas of technology and skills transfer. The different financing arrangements entail different relationships—one politicized, one commercial—offering different scopes of bargaining power: while the political relationship offers greater flexibility regarding financing, the commercial project has been more successful for exercising agency in relation to contractors.

1 Feb 2021