ALGIERS: On June 28, Algeria hosted the work of the 73rd ministerial session of the Trans-Saharan Road Liaison Committee (CLRT). This meeting brought together the ministers of the countries concerned by this strategic road, namely Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad as well as national and international financial institutions.
Conceived, at its inception, as a megaproject with the objective of connecting the countries of the black continent, and materializing the ideal of cooperation, the road of the African Union renamed “trans-Saharan road” is now approaching the five decades of its existence. “I have given more than forty years of my life to this project, and I am proud of everything that has been done so far”, declares Mohamed Ayadi, secretary general of the CLRT. Isn’t a still unfinished project, all things considered, a political utopia? Absolutely not, according to Mr. Ayadi.
The Trans-Saharan Road (RTS), still unfinished in its Malian and Chadian parts, must cross Algeria (3,400 km), Tunisia (900 km), Mali (1,974 km), Niger (1,635 km), Chad (900 km) and Nigeria (1,131 km). It already connects two Maghreb capitals, Algiers and Tunis, and it should eventually connect four sub-Saharan capitals: Bamako, Niamey, N’Djamena and Lagos.
The work of the RTS, begun in 1975, “has often been slowed down, due to several factors”, admits Mohamed Ayadi, specifying that it is in particular a question of “lack of financial means”. In March 2012, the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development granted a loan of 5 billion CFA francs to Niger (1 CFA franc = 0.0015 euro) for the development and asphalting of the axis linking the town of Arlit to Assamaka, on the border with Algeria. This work is now complete.
Mr. Ayadi confides that the delay is also due “to the effects of political instability” in certain countries of the Sahel, in particular the war in Mali, and the threats of terrorist groups in the Greater Sahara.
He prefers to draw attention to “what has been achieved” rather than to mention the delays “which are the objective consequence of a political reality and a difficult economic situation”. Indeed, “the RTS is already there” for Mohamed Ayadi who cites the example of Tunisia and Nigeria which have completed their portions, as well as Algeria, while Mali, Niger and Chad are using international financial institutions in hopes of completing what remains of the project.
Megaproject, for what economic benefits?
Mr. Ayadi is optimistic about the economic benefits of this mega-project, which “comes alongside the desire of States to increase the volume of intra-African trade, which remains low (3%), at a time when the agreement concerning the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (Zlecaf) has entered into force and where Algeria, anxious to change the model in its approach to economic development, is giving the signals of greater openness to the continent”, underlines he.
The secretary general of the CLRT indicates that as an economic infrastructure, “the RTS is ripe for the concretization of the objectives of this project, namely the acceleration, the reinforcement and the consolidation of the commercial exchanges between the member countries for a greater regional integration”. Mohamed Ayadi also specifies that the progress rate is more than 90%, and he explains that the 6 member countries represent 27% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 25% of its population. This is what must be highlighted according to him, who recalls that the RTS “was initially designed to strengthen economic exchanges between the countries of the Maghreb and the Sahel”.
What about the economic profitability and social impact of this African megaproject? Mr. Ayadi stresses the need for member countries to “take measures including the establishment of a strategic agreement defining a collaboration mechanism and a sustainable management system to achieve the objective of cooperation at the regional level”. He considers to this effect that if the RTS is not the determining variable for the improvement of the economic situation, “it is nevertheless the factor which can energize the economic operators and significantly increase the level of commercial exchanges”.
The RTS: the nerve of the inter-African economy
Referring to the imperious need for “the creation of a body for the promotion of trade between member countries”, Mohamed Ayadi, specified that “this ambition is in line with the objectives of the African Union and the support strategies of international partners for social and economic development of the continent”.
Considering the RTS as a strategic nerve, the Secretary General of the CLRT believes that economic approaches to the management of road infrastructure and transport in general highlight the system known as “trade and transport corridors”.
“From an economic point of view, the function of a corridor is to promote internal and external trade by providing more efficient transport and logistics services, and to support connectivity and economic development along the routes”, explains Mr. Ayadi and adds: “These corridors allow regions and member countries to offer high-capacity transport systems and services that reduce transport time, as well as trade and transport costs by creating economies of scale.”
“A feasibility study showed that operators in northern Niger and northern Mali, who would send their goods through the RTS from Mediterranean ports rather than through the Gulf of Guinea, would save eleven days”, indicates- he. For him, regional corridors are particularly important for landlocked countries, for which they represent economic opportunities, often providing the only land routes to ports of entry and to regional and international markets.
Together, Nigeria and Algeria represent 77% of the total population and 88% of the total GDP of the RTS Corridor countries.
Mohamed Ayadi stresses that “any project aimed at upgrading the road corridors of the RTS into an economic corridor and modernizing the border posts should focus on trade and the adequate integration of the local population benefiting from the related activities in the economic development predominantly regional. It is the characteristic of the RTS which could in the future constitute “the silk road of the continent”, hopes the secretary general of the CLRT.