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Lola Huete Machado

Bamako-Dakar by rail (2)

Por: | 02 de julio de 2012

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The Dakar-Niger railway line links two of west Africa's capital cities and crosses 1233 kilometres of arid landscape filled with baobab trees and low grasses, scrub and bush. But deep in the ground of the border region of western Mali and eastern Senegal there are enormous riches of gold, phosphates and iron ore, one of the minerals used to make steel. With global demand for iron ore from booming nations such as India, China and Brazil, still high despite the world economic slow-down, these untapped resources hold great value and the governments of Senegal and Mali are keen to get these goods to the outside world. 

The only thing linking the rich lands of this border region and the outside world is a train line which was laid more than one hundred years ago and, considering the wear on a piece of transport infrastructure such as this, should have already been replaced at least once. But lack of investment and complications brought about by the fact that the rail runs between two different countries with two different legal systems, economic agendas and socio-political situations, means that the rail, as strategic and vital to the region's economy as it is, is the same one that was laid by French colonisers in the early 20th century. And because of this, the wagons carrying iron ore- a heavy mineral- from the mines to the port in Dakar, can only run one third full. “If the railway line was in a good state,” says Djibril Keita, secretary general of Transrail at his office in Bamako, “we could double exports”.

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Between Kayes, in western Mali, and Tambacounda in eastern Senegal, are just 280 kilometres of largely flat, empty terrain. But derailments are so frequent (around one every three days in 2011) that Transrail can no longer run a passenger service between the two towns. I travelled with a delegation of Transrail officials and some mechanics in a small trolley-train in early 2012, and the journey between these two towns took us around 12 hours, with stops every few kilometres to bolt together pieces of track that had warped and broken, leaving gaps of sometimes of 30 centimetres. The sleepers are imprinted with the dates from when they were made, and as I walked along the track I could see dates going back as far as 1905. That the train can run at all on infrastructure as old as this seems nothing short of a miracle.

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In Bamako I visited the massive Korofina rail workshops where the staff of Transrail take in old pieces of track, wagons which have derailed or broken down, or wheels which have worn thin from over-use, and repair them using melted-down bits of metal, massive and ancient machines, and plenty of engine grease. The men working in the soldering workshop showed me how they remove the wheels which are worn so thin that they can no longer stay on the rails, and fashion new ones. The machinery used on this section of the line is no longer available on the market so even the bolts used to keep the track together are made here. “This is do-it-yourself,” said the man showing me around the workshop. This word was used again and again as I rode the track, in the Presidential carriage and then the mechanic's trolley, the whole length of the line.

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Digging deeper into the issue, there are all sorts of reasons why the Dakar-Niger railway is not getting the investment it needs. Just to improve the condition of the track, to make it safe for passengers, who can at the moment only ride from Bamako to Kayes, will require 177 billion CFA francs (€270 million). Actually replacing the track, which will allow both countries to fulfil export potential, will cost €1.2 billion. Neither country is willing to put in that kind of money, and donors can only lend to governments, while Transrail is owned by a complex mix of private and public investors.

There are also disagreements over the kind of rail which should be built: narrow gauge (the current kind of rail) is seen as 'colonial' whereas standard gauge is more 'modern'. However, much of west Africa's railway infrastructure is built in narrow gauge and trains can only run on one or the other. Replacing one section of track means replacing the whole lot.

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While a company restructuring is ongoing in an attempt to allow donors to invest in the line, Senegal and now Mali have undergone government changes. Mali is currently in a political crisis that means its growth for 2012 will probably be negative, according to the Central Bank of West Africa States in June. In this climate, it seems that saving the Dakar-Niger railway line is even more far off than previously thought. Without it, Mali and Senegal's export potential, as well as the life that this railway line gives to those living along it, is in serious jeopardy.

Nota: Los textos de los autores se publican en su versión original, primero y, más tarde, traducidos al castellano (cuando encontramos el momento de hacerlo o la ayuda de algún espontáneo). Gracias.

Hay 1 Comentarios

nice tryp! assuming that all imports supplies to Mali pass by Dakar port and then by truck, it will be more than important to develop a modern and reliable train connection between the two countries. just only, if senegal would set up a line to commute from and in Dakar, it will improve life conditions of many people getting into the peninsula. congratulations for the article.

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Sobre los autores

Lola Huete Machado. Redactora de El País y El País Semanal desde 1993, ha publicado reportajes sobre los cinco continentes. Psicóloga y viajera empedernida, aterrizó en Alemania al caer el muro de Berlín y aún así, fue capaz de regresar a España y contarlo. Compartiendo aquello se hizo periodista. Veinte años lleva. Un buen día miró hacia África, y descubrió que lo ignoraba todo. Por la necesidad de saber fundó este blog. Ahora coordina la sección Planeta Futuro.

Chema Caballero Chema Caballero. Llegó a África en 1992 y desde entonces su vida giró en torno a sus gentes, su color y olor, sus alegrías y angustias, sus esperanzas y ganas de vivir. Fue misionero javeriano y llevó a cabo programas de educación y recuperación de niñ@s soldado en Sierra Leona durante dos décadas, que fueron modelo.

José NaranjoJosé Naranjo. Freelance residente en Dakar desde 2011. Viajó al continente para profundizar en el fenómeno de las migraciones, del que ha escrito dos libros, 'Cayucos' (2006) y 'Los Invisibles de Kolda' (2009), que le llevaron a Marruecos, Malí, Mauritania, Argelia, Gambia, Cabo Verde y Senegal, donde aterrizó finalmente. Le apasiona la energía que desprende África.

Ángeles JuradoÁngeles Jurado. Periodista y escritora. Trabaja en el equipo de comunicación de Casa África desde 2007. Le interesa la cultura, la cooperación, la geopolítica o la mirada femenina del mundo. De África prefiere su literatura, los medios, Internet y los movimientos sociales, pero ante todo ama a Ben Okri, Véronique Tadjo y Boubacar Boris Diop, por citar solo tres plumas imprescindibles.

Chido OnumahChido Onumah. Reputado escritor y periodista nigeriano. Trabaja como tal en su país y en Ghana, Canadá e India. Está involucrado desde hace una década en formar a periodistas en África. Es coordinador del centro panafricano AFRICMIl (en Abuja), enfocado en la educación mediática de los jóvenes. Prepara su doctorado en la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Su último libro se titula 'Time to Reclaim Nigeria'.

Akua DjanieAkua Djanie. Así se hace llamar como escritora. Pero en televisión o en radio es Blakofe. Con más de tres lustros de carrera profesional, Akua es uno de los nombres sonados en los medios de su país. Residente en Reino Unido, fue en 1995, en uno de sus viajes a Ghana, cuando llegó su triunfo televisivo. Hoy vive y trabaja entre ambos países. La puedes encontrar en su página, Blakofe; en la revista New African, en Youtube aquí o aquí...

Beatriz Leal Riesco Beatriz Leal Riesco. Investigadora, docente, crítica y comisaria independiente. Nómada convencida de sus virtudes terapéuticas, desde 2011 es programadora del African Film Festival de NYC. Sissako, Mbembe, Baldwin y Simone la cautivaron, lanzándose a descubrir el arte africano y afroamericano. Su pasión aumenta con los años.

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