Should Africa spend money on high-speed train lines?

Posted on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 14:06

French president Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Morocco in late September as construction began on a new high-speed line linking Casablanca with Rabat and Tangiers. Businessmen and politicians want to know if it is a step in the right direction or a white elephant.

Join in the debate below. The best responses will be published in the next edition of The Africa Report.

NO – Najib Akesbi, Professor, Institute Agronomique et Vétérinaire in rabat and member of the Parti Socialiste Unifié, Morocco

On a continent where basic infrastructure is not yet in place, a high-speed train unfortunately seems to be a luxury that is difficult to justify – economically, socially, even ethically. In Morocco today, nearly 40% of rural areas are still isolated, according to official statistics. Basic infrastructure is missing and gaining one or two hours on a journey in Europe is not the same as gaining it in Africa, in terms of the opportunity cost.

The deal is an arbitrary ‘sovereign’ decision between a monarch [Mohammed VI] and a president [Nicolas Sarkozy] who needs a market at any price. It was a decision that was neither democratically debated with the population, nor studied economically to examine its economic pertinence. It’s a substitute for the Rafales contract [French fighter jets]. Tangiers is not a big enough town. Casablanca could justify it, quantitatively, but not qualitatively – in terms of the population’s purchasing power. It’s clear that this type of train will be reserved for an elite.

YES – Nomvula Mokonyane, Premier, Gauteng Province, South Africa, home of the high-speed Gautrain connecting Johannesburg and Pretoria

Here in Gauteng province, as we are investing money into an integrated public transport system, the construction of the high-speed train [Gautrain] is seen as a backbone to our public transport system and has increased GDP by 0.5%. We [Gauteng Province] are the economic hub of South Africa, we are a gateway to Africa. We have the largest concentration of diplomats outside of Washington, and we host a lot of international conferences. So this was not just a transport intervention, it was also about retaining our character, as the economic hub, and making the most of doing business and the movement of people in a particular category easier.

Many of our sister countries in Africa have been interested to know how the project was initiated. Any investment that is done should be done in the interest of the country’s economy and the people of that country. We have created jobs, we have been able to improve our infrastructure through the Gautrain, therefore any country must look at its own priorities and how this high-speed train can actually yield dividends for them.

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