By Lawrence Freemen | 21 August 2023

The African Union’s “Agenda 2063” includes plans for the African Integrated High Speed Rail Network (AIHSRN), a high speed rail line across Africa. However, their plan for completion is 40 years from now. Rowland Ataguba, a Nigerian expert in rail management, has proposed a different timetable, which includes two “Master Plans.” He proposes the completion of 35,828 kilometers (kms) of high-speed rail lines by 2033, and an additional 14,547 kms by 2043.

Why is Mr. Ataguba’s fast track schedule for this transformative rail project important for the African continent?

Why is Rail Infrastructure Crucial?

As a physical economist I understand, as all policy experts and leaders should, the critical importance of hard infrastructure. Along with energy, rail transportation is essential for the growth of every economy. If properly implemented, this physical input into the economy will be transformative. African nations are suffering, and Africans are dying everyday due to the abysmal level of energy throughput in their economies. The paucity of kilometers of railroad track per square area of territory measured, is equally appalling. I can state with authority, that without a full scale, military type mobilization, to rapidly expand these two vital categories of infrastructure, African nations will not achieve industrialization. Without this infrastructure, unacceptable levels of extreme poverty, hardship, and unnecessary deaths will continue on the African continent, especially in sub-Sahara Africa.

Infrastructure, particularly high speed rail, increases the profitability of the entire economy. It advances the productive powers of society, yielding higher rates of production of physical wealth. In other words, all aspects of labor activity and farming involved in the production of tangible products will be upgraded as a result of the introduction of high speed rail. The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement will not succeed, and inter-African trade will remain absurdly low, unless all major African cities, ports, farming agricultural hubs and industrial centers, are connected by AIHSRN.

Rail transportation, like electricity and other forms of hard infrastructure, adds physical value to the economy. (Soft infrastructure contributes to economic growth differently). Thus, even if in the initial stages, railroads don’t yield a profit for that particular business venture, they will have a positive impact on the economy. Connecting production and agricultural markets with consumers through time saving more efficient means of transportation will lead to expansion of economic growth. Otherwise known as progress, which Africa, despite its abundant potential, has been denied.

Take note: China has lifted over 700 million of its people out of poverty on the back of the most expansive high speed rail network in the world,-over 40,000 kms. A similar feat can be accomplished in the African continent, which now has the largest number of people living in poverty.

Click On Link below to read the ten page proposal prepared by Rowland Ataguba, July 2020


In the spring of 2020 and with the covid pandemic ravaging the world, I was approached by AUDA/NEPAD to draw up proposals to fasttrack the delivery of the African Integrated High Speed Railway Network (AIHSRN), a network of railway networks comprising about 50,000 track km costing about $300bn to operationalize, creating nearly 15m jobs and potentially lifting 500m African people out of multi dimensional poverty. An African game changer indeed!

This was at a time of much uncertainty and chaos across the world yet the excitement and expectations for the impending launch of the AfCFTA made for a heady cocktail of emotions.

Proposal was presented to a panel chaired by the AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development and former Kenyan Prime Minister, H.E. Raila Odinga at an event moderated by my aburo and co-traveller Olawale Rasheed of the African Railway Roundtable and currently moonlighting as Chief Press Secretary to the Osun State Governor, H.E. Sen. Demola Adeleke. Then followed a rash of media sorties including conversations with Phillippa Dean (PD) of Railways Africa and others with Larry Freeman and P.D. Lawton of African Agenda to try and push the envelope.

Larry has recently published this commentary on AIHRSN featuring excerpts of my discussion with PD and evoking memories of that time but calling again for a serious look. Sadly, we haven’t moved much beyond the talk though recent political developments within the ECOWAS region may help focus minds. Larry is a progressive pro-Africa American thinker and has been particularly critical of the role of western countries in underdeveloping Africa or in not supporting African development. Indeed we are in agreement that it is in the west’s enlightened self interest that Africa makes progress as an unstable Africa will destabilise the world.

From a Nigerian perspective, 3 rail projects are key components of the AIHSRN. Lagos – Kano- Jibiya- Maradi, Lagos – Calabar and Port Harcourt – Maiduguri. All in standard gauge and integrating with the networks of its neighbours of Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The challenge for Nigeria nay Africa is in the incoherent delivery strategy of these projects. Local problems are morphing into regional difficulties causing hold-up challenges and leading to stasis.

The Maghreb states particularly Morocco and Egypt are leading the charge. Libya post Ghadaffi is sadly a source of regional instability. The East and Central African states are not doing too badly with Tanzania and Ethiopia leading the charge while Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda are also not relenting. Sudan and DRC still presenting political challenges. However it is in the Ecowas region which had the greatest promise because of the presence of African giant Nigeria, with the headquarters of the AfCFTA in Ghana and the AfDB in Cote d’Ivoire that more good news is desirable but is proving hard to come by. Southern Africa is much challenged too with the problems with the regional giant South Africa and Transnet.

Bottom line is Agenda 2063 has slipped badly. Africa needs to get a grip. Its local political problems need sorting but appear to be fundamentally economic. To fix the economies require political stability so we are in a bit of a quandary but wars solve less and create more problems. It may separate the men from the boys but the boys now have other men behind them and victors are proving hard to emerge decisively. Everyone is losing.