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Bring Peace to Libya with Infrastructure, and Make It Africa’s Gateway to Europe

Jan. 23, 2020 (EIRNS)—The recent Moscow and Berlin conferences on the Libyan conflict have created hope that the Sarkozy-Obama-Cameron nine-year war that has ravaged Libya will soon come to an end. The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to personally take the issue in hand goes a long way to assuring success of the effort. But real assured success will come when Russia, China and the United States, dragging Europe behind them, move jointly by offering direct aid in the reconstruction and development of the Libyan economy. The fact that the country has not suffered the massive destruction that Syria has, and can draw on its oil resources, will make a reconstruction effort proceed much more quickly.

There is one issue the two warring sides share in common, and that is to restart the infrastructure projects which were underway prior to the regime change war forced on the country. At the center of those infrastructure projects was the construction of a railway network that could form the missing key link to an East-West corridor and Maghreb Railway along the Mediterranean coast stretching from Alexandria, Egypt, to Casablanca, Morocco. And from Tripoli to Chad and Niger, southward all the way to Cape Town, South Africa. By 2011, this project was fully underway in Libya and involved the China Railway Construction Corp. and Russian Railways, which were building the lines, while the U.S. General Electric Co. was contracted to supply locomotives, and Italy’s Finmeccanica was contracted to supply the signaling equipment. (In addition to that, the 2009 Italy-Libya Friendship Treaty included the construction of a coastal highway as part of reparation for Italy’s colonialist past.)

A detailed report on the railway program can be found in “Libyan Railway: A Gateway to Europe,” by Dr. Rajab Abdullah Hokoma and Dr. S.P. Bindra. This extremely optimistic paper was published in 2010, just months before the war broke out, strongly suggesting that the project was one of the main reasons for targeting the country. The plan was to construct a 3,170 km standard gauge network, for which the section between Ras Edjar, on the Tunisian border, to Sirte via Tripoli, would have been completed by 2012, had the war not broken out. China Railway Construction Corp. had been in the process of building 352 km of that section stretching from Sirte to El Khoms. Russian Railways had already conducted a feasibility study and signed a contract to build the line from Sirte, east to Benghazi in 2008. Another 800 km line was to be built from the iron ore deposits at Wadi Shati, near Sebha in the south of the country to the steel mill at the coastal port city of Misurata.

The authors of the paper write that these rail lines were to be part of a “Grand Design” for an African-wide network. Libya was in discussions to extend the Libyan rail network south into Niger and Chad. Such a development would contribute immensely to the construction of the Transaqua project to build a canal from the Congo basin and refill Lake Chad.

In 2019, Abdul Hadi al-Hweij, Foreign Minister of the Benghazi-based Parliament and Interim Cabinet, attended the Africa Summit hosted in Moscow, at which he requested Russia take up the completion of the $2.2 billion Sirte-Benghazi railway project. Earlier, a high-level delegation from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Economy and Industry Minister Nasir Shaglan, travelled to Moscow in October, 2018, to meet with the leadership of Russian Railways on the completion of the Benghazi and Sirte line, despite the fact that the GNA did not have control over this territory.

General Electric had signed contracts in 2007 for 15 locomotives, which were never delivered. Last September GE signed a binding Memorandum of Understanding with the GNA to strengthen Libya’s power sector by adding up to 6 GW of power over the next five years, with up to 2 GW expected to be added by 2020. According to a statement by the American Embassy, the MOU is an important part of ongoing U.S. efforts to reinforce U.S.-Libya economic cooperation and promote Libya’s economic recovery for the benefit of all Libyans.

While there have been no public statements so far on CRCC restarting its rail project, China already has a foot in the door with the delivery earlier this month of the first batch of 35 Chinese-manufactured buses arriving in Tripoli.

The prospect of China’s Belt and Road initiative entering Libya along with Russian, American and Italian and other European companies could rapidly reconstruct the country and making it into a keystone for the development of the entire region as a “Gateway” to Europe. China is already deeply involved in building railways in neighboring Tunisia and Algeria.

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