What does Africa need? Elementary, a canal!

Saturday June 29 2013

At the start of the week, three East African Community presidents — Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta and Paul Kagame met at State House, Entebbe in Uganda and broke bread for two days.

Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete was not there. A journalist joked unkindly that he was busy dry-cleaning his finest suits, in preparation for the arrival of US President Barack Obama.

Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza was not there either. The last time the EAC Summit gathered in Bujumbura, at one parley Nkurunziza arrived nearly an hour late after his colleagues had given up and begun the meeting.

A fly on the wall said that former Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, who was EAC chair then, a dollars-and-sense mzee who didn’t suffer the impertinence of youth gladly, lost patience and started the meeting.
So maybe Nkurunziza was invited to the Entebbe meeting and just hadn’t arrived by its end!

I say all that in jest. What was not in jest, were the resolutions of the three. They issued the most ambitious call for the development of regional infrastructure ever. They set themselves the goal of building the needed kilometres of railways, oil pipelines, electricity lines, and port facilities that the region has tried and failed to do in the past 50 years.

If they fail, at least they will still be given top marks for dreaming big.


Reading the Entebbe resolutions, though, one sensed that Africa — East, West, Central, South, North — needs just one killer infrastructure — a canal. It would make Africa the richest continent in the world, just like that.

And here’s why. There are 15 landlocked African countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, CAR, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, and Lesotho.

To begin with, Lesotho is a tiny speck in the middle of South Africa, and Swaziland grows like a wart on its ear to the east. These two countries should just become South African provinces.

That leaves us with the other 13. There could a T-shaped canal that begins in Mozambique, touches the Botswana-Zimbabwe border, hugs Malawi, snakes along Tanzania’s southeast border, to Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, then along the eastern edge of DR Congo, and to South Sudan.

Then a leg would begin from Obbia on the Somalia coast, into southern Ethiopia, connect with the southern leg in South Sudan, and then cross through CAR, Chad, Niger, run between Mali and Burkina Faso, into Guinea and end on the Atlantic Ocean.

In all, the total canal — because it will be snaking all over the African interior — would be about 6,300 kilometres. Sounds crazy? Not if you consider that it would be just 2.8 per cent of the USA’s 225,000 kilometres of railway line.

It would not only change Africa, but the world. In addition, the way Africa views itself, and also the way the world views it, would undergo revolutionary shifts. And, of course, the songs, praise poems, love stories, books, and myths would run in the millions.

Recently, Japan held an African summit. Its Honshu-Shikoku Bridge, a system of 17 bridges connecting the islands of Honshu and Shikoku, cost $48 billion. A loan of that amount can build the Trans-Africa Canal. We just need make sure none of Africa’s “cowboy” contractors come anywhere near it.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @cobbo3