Trains could soon be running from landlocked Burkina Faso to the Atlantic ports of Ghana following the the construction of a planned US $750 million railway line to take the pressure of rapidly growing freight traffic off Ghana's battered roads.
Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, the Minister for Ports, Habours and Railways, told IRIN that a six-month feasability study of the proposed new line from Kumasi in central Ghana to manganese deposits near Dori, 200 km northeast of the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou, would start in July.
Finance for the project could then be raised next year, he added.
Burkina Faso, and its equally landlocked neighbours, Mali and Niger, traditionally depended on road and rail links to the port of Abidjan in Cote d'Ivoire for most of their external trade.
But since Cote d'Ivoire plunged into civil war nearly two years ago, with rebels seizing the north of the country, they have been forced to divert much of their trade to Tema and Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana and other ports in West Africa.
Transit trade through Tema harbour near the capital Accra soared from 20,000 tonnes in 1999 to 610,000 tonnes in 2002, when the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire erupted.
It jumped to more than 700,000 tonnes last year, putting severe pressure on Ghana’s trunk north-south highway from Tema to Paga on the border with Burkina Faso.
“We cannot depend solely on our roads to cart all these goods. The cargo trucks are causing considerable damage to our roads," Ameyaw-Akumfi said.
"Accidents are also increasing. That is why the idea to develop a railway network has come up. Both the roads and rail networks need to complement each other," he added.
Officials from Ghana and Burkina Faso are due to start work in July on a feasability study of the proposed 1,252 km rail link between the two countries , with the help of US $5.4 million from the African Development Bank.
“It will take six months to complete the feasibility study. That is the starting point and the most difficult part," Ameyaw-Akumfi said. "With that completed, we can definitely cost the project and then go out and source for investment to start. That should happen early next year,” .
Officials said that besides carrying much of the existing freight that currently travels by road, the new line could boost mining activities in both partner countries.
Burkina Faso has huge manganese deposits in the northeast, where the single track line would end, while Ghana has undeveloped iron ore deposits near the northeastern town of Yendi.
“A branch of the proposed railway line will go into Yendi. That line and the one that extends to the Burkinabe manganese fields will be used to cart both iron ore and manganese ore to the Tema and Takoradi harbours for export,” Ameyaw-Akumfi explained.
The line might also improve food distribution within Ghana itself, providing a faster, cheaper way to get farm produce from the country’s breadbasket in the interior to markets in the heavily populated south.
The lack of good road networks often means that after bumper harvests food often ends up rotting on farms because there is no way to get it to market. Transport savings might also lead to lower food prices.
Most railway lines in West Africa date from the colonial era and are now rundown and neglected. Ghana's existing rail network, which links Kumasi to the country's two main ports is no exception.
Besides building this new railway line, Ghana wants to revamp its rundown and barely used southern railway network by leasing out existing lines to private operators to operate as a concession in return for a commitment to provide badly needed investment. Tenders have been issued and bids are due in by July.
“We expect to raise substantial revenue from our railway lines as well as the inter-country line in the near future especially taking into consideration traffic that passes through Ghana to our landlocked neighbours,” Ameyaw-Akumfi said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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