BY WILFRED EWALEIFOH
Perched on a hill we look down the valley. It’s a picturesque scene. The Congo River, surrounded by rolling hills, runs through its course in serene majesty, the way it has probably done for centuries. Languid. Subtle ripples. Boats and canoes sail on. Mist rises in the horizon enveloping the surrounding hills. Picture perfect. Our eyes take in the beauty. It settles in our soul. Nature does create masterpieces. Our minds linger and then we ruminate on how all these could soon change as man prepares to do something profound here. That is why “we,” journalists from Northern, Southern, Eastern, Central and Western Africa have come here.
We plunge down the hill through pathways that can only be dared by four wheel drives appropriately marketed as; “Made for African Roads”. Like olden day explorers we are on a mission; to seek the site where a project that will be critical to regional and continental integration is expected to be constructed. We see the site even before it is pointed out.
A large Congolese Republic flag secured on a concrete base on the banks of the Congo in the village of Maloukou Trechot announces it. National Flags only fly on monuments and sites of National importance. This project is on that scale.
This is the proposed site for the construction of a rail-road bridge over the Congo river to connect Brazzaville, Capital of the Republic of Congo and Kinshasa, Capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are described as the nearest capital cities in the world separated by the Congo river which ironically also binds them. Movement of goods and persons have only been by ferries, speed boats and canoes. This new project is expected to be a major turning point.
The location chosen for the bridge is however about sixty-five kilometers from both capital cities. Eleli Alain Alfred from Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Town and Planning told journalists that fourteen locations were considered before dropping anchor at Maloukou Trechot for two strategic reasons. The Congo river is at its most narrow here and both countries have established special economic zones in the area.
The scope of the project encompasses the construction of a 1.575-kilometer toll bridge with a single railway track, joint border control posts at either end and ten kilometers of road to connect existing road infrastructure in both countries. Eleli says some of the critical studies have been concluded with support from the African Development Bank, Afdb.
The project is now at the structuring stage under the direction of Africa50, the infrastructure investment platform of the African Development Bank. The total cost has been estimated at 550 million USD. Take-off date has been set for 2020. Africa50 has listed the project among those under its portfolio on its websites and says “the framework agreement contemplates that the project will be developed as a Public Private Partnership [PPP]…… with AfDB as the debt provider under the aegis of the Economic Community of Central African States”.
This pretty much suggests that it is a done deal.
The Brazzaville-Kinshasa rail road project will also form part of the 840 kilometer Kinshasa-Ilebo railway that is expected to enhance the railway network in the region and the continent.
These projects are expected to “promote, improve and secure connections between Brazzaville and Kinshasa and exchanges between the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as promote regional and continental trade.”
On the bank of the Congo river in Moloukou, the village school teacher Appotere Viston and his friends watched Eleli briefing the media. They along with the Village Chief Rolf, had only one thing on their minds, the hope that the project will bring development to their village.
It is the same inspiration and aspiration that is driving the Programme on Infrastructure Development in Africa[PIDA]. This is the special purpose vehicle of the African Union and her partners geared towards accelerating the development of high impact public infrastructure across the continent in four critical sectors; ICT, energy, water and transport.
Many road corridors are being developed across the continent as part of the transport infrastructure. In West Africa, there is the Lagos-Abidjan corridor which is linking five countries in the region to enhance the growth of their economies. This is expected to have a ripple effect on all the other economies in the Ecowas region. The same is happening in other regional economic communities.
About 27 thousand kilometers of roads have been constructed across Africa under the first phase of PIDA which is rounding off. This way, from Lagos to Addis Ababa, Cape to Cairo, Tripoli to Windhoek, persons, goods and services can move across Africa seamlessly under the steam of the Continental African Free Trade Area [CAFTA].
Maloukou Trechot is the beginning of another leg in this continental plan for secure connections. The construction of the Brazzaville-Kinshasa bridge here will fill the missing link in the Tripoli to Windhoek corridor.
As Eleli rounds off his briefing, the team from PIDA’s network of journalists confront the return journey from the community to the hilltop to link the motorway to Brazzaville. It is quite an uphill task even for the famous 4-wheel drives. In some way, it is a reminder of the uphill task that still lies ahead to deliver the Brazzaville-Kinshasa rail road project as it still has some road to travel. We all have to pitch in with advice on how to coax the 4-wheel drive to beat the rough, rugged and loose terrain. Instructively, such team effort will be required from all the project stakeholders made up of; the two countries, African Union Development Agency[AUDA-NEPAD], African Development Fund, Economic Community of Central African States[ECCAS] and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa[COMESA] working in sync for this project to crystalize within the envisaged period.
Back to the top, the view is simply glorious. Just the way Africa can be glorious if all its strengths can be harnessed as PIDA is striving to do.