Saturday, April 4, 2009

Landlocked Ethiopia ponders road links with Kenya, Sudan

Landlocked Ethiopia is forging better road links with its neighbours Sudan and Kenya to ease dependence on the Red Sea port of Djibouti, a government official said yesterday.

“The road linkage with Kenya and Sudan would help landlocked Ethiopia export and import goods through Mombassa and Port Sudan ports at relatively less cost than Djibouti,” said Samson Wondimu, head of public relations at the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA).

Ethiopia had to pay an extra $22mn in 2008 on top of the $700mn it pays annually in port fees to Djibouti. The Red Sea port has served as Ethiopia’s main sea gateway since it lost Assab and Massawa when Eritrea won independence.

Ethiopian businessmen have appealed to the government to seek alternative, cheaper routes through which they can export and import goods, according to the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association.

Samson said Ethiopia had completed preliminary study to asphalt the 310km road linking Hager-Mariam with Moyale, the border town with Kenya to the south. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has reacted positively to Ethiopia’s $100mn loan request to upgrade the highway to Kenya, he said.

The road south from Moyale, however, is unsurfaced for more than 500km until it reaches the Kenyan town of Isiola and is one of the worst highways in the country. The government has recently begun improving a stretch north of Isiola.

Ethiopia has already built a modern 880km highway linking the capital with the town of Metema on the northern border with Sudan, he said. This provides an outlet via Port Sudan.

“This highway serves for the export of Ethiopia’s oil seeds and for the import of fuel,” he said.