News & Current Affairs

June 22, 2009

Ethiopia looks to revive past cglories

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:28 pm

Ethiopia looks to revive past railway glories

train

A major project is under way to restore Ethiopia’s 100-year-old imperial railway, and there are even plans to build a new national network.

The French built it for the Emperor Menelik in the early 1900s, and French influences are everywhere, from the glazed canopies of the Addis Ababa railway station to the startling sight of the Ethiopian station staff in Dire Dawa talking to each other in French as they dispatch a night goods train down the line to Djibouti.

Like so many rail systems, the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway was neglected for years in favour of road transport, but the loss of its main ports when Eritrea gained independence left Ethiopia totally dependent on Djibouti for an outlet to the sea.

Man on empty platform

This passenger may face a long wait for the next train

The country needed the railway more than ever, but the line was in no fit state for intensive use.

The system is narrow, one metre gauge, with steep gradients on the long haul up from sea level to the Ethiopian highlands.

Some stretches of track are more than a century old; crumbling embankments and decaying bridges limit the weight and speed of the trains.

Recently it has been averaging one derailment a week, and attracting so little traffic that for a time staff frequently went unpaid.

But now, with European Union support, a major restoration project is under way.

Spectacular scenery

Almost a third of the track is being re-laid, using heavier weight rails – 40kg per metre instead of the 20kg rails still in use on some stretches of the line.

The section from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa has been closed while the work is going on.

end of the railway line

The railway to nowhere?

A spectacular stretch of line, near the town of Metahara, where the track runs on a narrow causeway across a volcanic lake, has already been completed.

Workers are strengthening bridges, consolidating embankments, and casting 25,000 concrete sleepers to replace the lightweight metal sleepers which were there before.

Meanwhile, a little desultory traffic still runs on the lower stretch of the line from Dire Dawa to Djibouti – a trainload of fruit and vegetables once a week for sale in Djibouti, coffee for export, trainloads of live camels destined for the meat markets of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Coming the other way are all the construction materials needed for the project itself.

When the work is finished, in perhaps 18 months time, the system will still be narrow gauge, but much safer and more robust, able to take heavier trains at faster speeds.

‘Pro-poor’

The railway’s general manager, To’om Terie, who now sits in his comfortable office in Addis Ababa above a silent, deserted station, says he expects a volume of something like 10 trains a day and a comfortable operating profit.

map

Mr To’om, who has worked for the railway for more than 30 years, is happy about the prospects for his own railway, but excited too that national policy now officially embraces rail transport.

The government is starting to plan a completely new rail system, with a further 5,000 km (3,100 miles) of lines.

It is early days yet, and Ethiopia is still looking for partners to build such a network.

But the man in charge of the project, Getachew Betru, confirmed that this would be a standard gauge railway, electrified to take advantage of the abundant, cheap electricity expected to be produced by ambitious new hydro-electric schemes soon to come into operation.

It would be primarily designed to carry freight, and although the proposed routes are still confidential, it might – for instance – serve the coffee-producing areas of western Ethiopia, the light industries of the north, the commercial food producing areas south of Addis Ababa, and the fertile, but as yet undeveloped farmlands near the Sudan border.

Sign in Amharic and French

The French influence is still strong

Mr Getachew talks with enthusiasm about rail transport as the engine of development, and of his conviction that railways are inherently more “pro-poor” than any other transport system – of much more use to Ethiopia’s rural dwellers than an expensive network of tarmac road, driven on mostly by tourists and aid workers.

At the moment the new network is still a dream, but given Ethiopia’s dramatically-rugged terrain, if it does get built, then it will surely be one of the outstanding railway engineering feats of the 21st Century.

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September 18, 2008

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

A Unamid peacekeeper talks to civilians in Darfur (UN image from 2006)

Unamid had hoped to deploy 80% of 26,000 mandated troops by 2009

Only half the troops intended for a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for the Sudanese region of Darfur will be deployed by 2009, the UN says.

Alain Le Roy, the new head of UN peacekeeping, said only 13,000 of the 26,000 troops authorized for the Unamid force would arrive by the end of 2008.

Unamid took over peacekeeping duties in the war-ravaged Darfur province last January from a 7,000-strong AU force.

It had planned to have more than 20,000 staff deployed by the start of 2009.

But by last month it had only 8,100 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground.

In July, Unamid’s commander, Nigerian Gen Martin Agwai, expressed optimism that 80% of the force could be deployed by year’s end. That optimism was echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But Mr Le Roy said: “I think 80% sadly has been, as far as I know so far, a bit optimistic.”

He said the arrival of Thai and Nepalese units in Darfur had been delayed, adding that he expected an additional 3,000 troops and police to be on the ground by the end of November, primarily from Ethiopia and Egypt.

In July, seven Unamid peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured when they were attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur, prompting the UN to move its non-essential staff to locations outside the country.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

September 10, 2008

Somali MP assassinated at mosque

Somali MP assassinated at mosque

Somali MP Mohamed Osman Maye

Mr Maye had publicly expressed his concern about the worsening violence

Somali MP Mohamed Osman Maye has been shot dead outside a mosque in the town of Baidoa, the seat of parliament.

He was thought to have been an ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf.

He is the first MP to have been assassinated since Ethiopian forces helped the interim government oust Islamists from power in December 2006.

Meanwhile, Islamist militants who took over the port town of Kismayo last month have imposed a curfew following the assassination of several residents.

“The curfew started on Monday night and will go on until we secure the town,” Abdurrahman Ali Mohamed, who is charge of security in the town, told BBC.

Insurgents of the al-Shabab group seized control of Kismayo in August after a three-day battle in which an estimated 70 civilians were killed.

Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

He says it is the biggest city the Islamists have seized during their 20-month insurgency.

Al-Shabab, a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts which ruled much of southern Somalia in 2006, has refused to participate in a UN-backed peace initiative taking place in Djibouti.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in fighting which has been worst in the capital, Mogadishu.

Earlier this week, Mr Maye gave a speech to parliament, expressing his concern about the worsening violence.

“He was shot in the head outside a mosque where he had attended evening prayers,” MP Amir Shaketi told the AFP news agency.

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

August 23, 2008

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Wounded man in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s main market was also bombed on Tuesday

Islamist insurgents in Somalia say they have taken control of the southern port of Kismayo amid fighting that has left dozens of people dead.

A spokesman for al-Shabab, Mukhtar Robow, told the BBC his militia had wrested the city from a local clan militia during a third day of clashes.

A UN official said about 100 people had been killed and up to 25,000 displaced.

There has also been fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and hijackings by pirates off the north Somali coast.

Al-Shabab is a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts, which ruled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted and launching a rebellion.

Humanitarian crisis

Kismayo, Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

On Friday at least 15 people were reported to have died in the Kismayo fighting and 18 injured, with dozens killed over three days of clashes.

I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people
Kismayo resident

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that about 100 people had been killed in Kismayo and as many as 25,000 displaced.

“After four hours [the fighting] ended up in the northern corner of the town, now the town seems to be under the control of al-Shabab,” a human rights worker in the port told on Friday.

Residents said Islamist fighters were patrolling the streets, and that sporadic shooting was continuing in parts of the city.

The fighting is said to have caused an acute humanitarian crisis.

Many people have no access to food and all business activity is reported to have stopped.

“The last three days of fighting has severely affected the town, where people remained in doors,” one resident said.

“Now I am out, to my surprise, I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people.”

Market hit

In Mogadishu on Thursday, some mortars landed near the compound of President Abdullahi Yusuf, who was out of the country.

Another landed near a mosque in the busy Bakara market, killing at least six people, a witness told the BBC.

Map of Somalia

Witnesses said government troops and their Ethiopian allies responded by opening fire, killing several civilians.

At least 20 people were reported to have been killed in fighting in the capital, though the city was calm on Friday.

Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December 2006, to oust Islamist forces from Mogadishu.

The police chief in the capital said people who wanted to sabotage talks in neighboring Djibouti between Somalia’s provisional government and its Islamist rivals were behind the most recent violence, our correspondent reports.

Piracy

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

The UN’s World Food Programme is expanding its programme to feed 2.4 million people in Somalia by the end of the year.

Aid efforts have been hampered by the violence, and the delivery of aid has been threatened by piracy near Somalia’s coast.

On Friday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said pirates had seized a German cargo ship off the Somali coast a day earlier.

Earlier, a Japanese tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier had been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, a busy international shipping route to the north of Somalia.

An IMB spokesman said a warship from an international force was tracking the hijacked ships.

Another ship, a Malaysian oil tanker with 39 crew was captured in the same area on Tuesday.

August 8, 2008

Migrants rescued off Italy coast

Migrants rescued off Italy coast

Migrants gathered in a reception centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa

Some 12,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa since January

Italian vessels have rescued at least 250 would-be migrants from boats and vessels off the coast of Italy.

The navy rescued at least 175 people, believed to be from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia from three vessels, 190km (120 miles) south of Lampedusa island.

A further 72 people – including seven women and a child – were rescued from a rubber dinghy by the coastguard.

Local politicians say Lampedusa is facing a crisis with 12,000 would-be migrants brought ashore since January.

Dangerous journey

The Italian navy agreed to rescue those onboard the three vessels after they ran out of fuel and water in Libyan territorial waters.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, had appealed to Malta, Libya and Italy to rescue the stranded vessels.

A UNHCR spokesman told Reuters news agency he believed some 25 women and six children were among those on board.

Those rescued from the dinghy 80km south of Lampedusa included seven women and a child, Italian media report.

Thousands of Africans risk their lives to make the perilous journey each year, many leaving in makeshift vessels from Libya hoping to gain entry to Europe via Italy or Malta.

Last year, according to rights watchdog the Council of Europe, some 51,000 migrants arrived by boat in Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta, many of them asylum seekers and refugees who lack legal avenues to enter Europe.

Emergency services in Italy have warned that crowded holding centres in the country are on the verge of collapse, worsening a state of emergency declared by the Italian government over immigrants.

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