French President Emmanuel Macron visited Morocco on Thursday to take part in the inauguration of a high-speed railway line that boasts the fastest journey times in Africa or the Arab world. It was a subtle French show of soft force in the emerging race for the soul of Africa. France as a patron of many African nations is challenged by China, which is dangling carrots minus sticks before many African nations.
The French leader was invited to attend by King Mohammed VI and travelled with the monarch on board the train from Tangier, a major port linking Africa and Europe, to the capital Rabat. The service between Tangiers and Casablanca, via the capital, will slash journey times between the North African country’s economic hubs to just over two hours from nearly five.
According to reports from the kingdom,trains will zoom along the newly laid tracks at up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour. This is faster than the speeds of up to 300 kph boasted by the new line opened by Saudi authorities last month linking Islam’s holiest cities Mecca and Medina via the Red Sea port of Jeddah. Morocco has heralded the project as a key step in modernising the country after weathering the Arab Spring uprisings born largely out of discontent over inequality and poor public services. It wants to position itself as an African hub for foreign investors, pundits posited.
The French presidency hailed the railway line as a “flagship project of the bilateral relationship between France and Morocco.”France hopes the project can display its industrial know how so that its companies can secure other contracts in Africa. We want to make this project a showcase of the modernisation of the country: it is a challenge that we can take up,” the Les Ecos newspaper wrote in an editorial Thursday.
Macron was accompanied by the heads of French companies involved in the project,namely Alstom,[which supplied France’s famous TGV trains], the Ansaldo-Ineo group and the Colas Rail-Egis Rail consortium. What a way to show that Paris is very much around especially in the infrastructure sphere.
Hundreds of workers worked until the last minute to complete the project that was launched in September 2011 by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Moroccan government put the cost of the project at 23 billion dirhams ($2.4 billion/2.1 billion euros), nearly 15 percent more than initial estimates but well below average European prices.Loans from France helped to cover half of that amount.