Newspiece: Ethiopia: A Crumbling Metro Reveals Failed Promise of China’s Billions in Africa

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Salient points:

A $475 million light-rail system serving Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa shows how some China-funded infrastructure investments across the continent are now suffering from neglect.

  • Waiting times for a train can now stretch to 20 to 25 minutes vs the original 6 minutes.
  • Inoperable trains are regularly parked at the railway’s garage, awaiting maintenance (Fleet size= 41 trains)
  • The light rail is among 70 mega projects that Ethiopia undertook with a $14.8 billion loan from the Chinese government and related financial institutions between 2006 and 2018, data from the Ministry of Finance show.
  • China Railway Engineering Group spearheaded the three-year construction effort, followed by an additional three years of managing operations and maintenance post-launch along with another Chinese firm, Shenzhen Metro Group.
  • The project, with a total cost of $475 million, relied heavily on an 85% loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, with the remaining funds sourced from the government’s coffers.
  • Key hurdles include frequent power outages, inadequate local maintenance facilities, limited availability of spare parts, and challenges in accessing foreign currency for importing spare parts from China, says Mitiku Asmare, head of the city’s transport agency.
  • The project’s original sin was poor planning, with insufficient arrangements in place to cover needs including maintenance work, spare parts, and the required local skills to sustainably run the project, Chiyemura said.
  • The Chinese government has pledged support by repairing the dysfunctional trains. Last year, the government signed an agreement with China that will provide hundreds of spare parts worth $23 million to maintain the units and an additional seven trains.

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