US historian on TAZARA project

Added On May 12, 2014

In Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's speech at the African Union headquarters earlier, Li said China is ready to expand cooperation with Africa in building road, rail, telecommunications, power grid and other infrastructure so as to help the continent realize regional interconnection. 
China has a long history of aid to Africa, including in sectors such as rail. In the 1970s, it helped build the Tanzania-Zambia railway, which, with a total length of 1,860 km, has become a major corridor connecting eastern, central and southern Africa. 
We took a closer look at the railway that made history. 
This is Lao Jiang. 40 years ago, he, along with his fellow workers, helped to construct the TAZARA Railway in Africa. 
Lao Jiang lives in a small apartment of only two rooms, in northeast China's Harbin city. Although there isn't much storage space, Jiang has refused to let go of some of the keepsakes that remind him of his time working on the TAZARA. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Prof. JAMIE MONSON, Macalester College 
"This shows me that that time in his life was very meaningful." 
Lao Jiang is one of those Chinese workers who helped Jamie Monson learn more about some of their experiences during the construction of the historic railway. 
Jamie Monson, a history professor at Macalester College in the State of Minnesota, has been studying the TAZARA Railway for more than 15 years. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Prof. JAMIE MONSON, Macalester College 
"When we talk to those people about their experiences and their stories we really learn about this engagement and this relationship on a human level. And I think that's a very valuable place to begin." 
The TAZARA Railway was built by the Chinese in 1970. The aim was to link Zambia's Copperbelt to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam. 
Running 1,860 kilometers from Tanzania to Zambia, the railroad travels from low-level river areas all the way up to the high level plateau. 
Just like the railway route, the lives of the hundreds of thousands of local workers who helped to construct the line, also felt the highs and lows of the journey. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Prof. JAMIE MONSON, Macalester College 
"Once the train was built it was great for local communities because people who living in the valley grow rice and they fish, and people up in the highlands could grow things like vegetables and maize. So this was a big part of the trade that I was able to document." 
With about 35,000 small receipts and documents of different products she collected along the TAZARA corridor, she has discovered how much of an impact the railway had had on people's lives. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Prof. JAMIE MONSON, Macalester College 
"So there was a way that people could expand the range of their life, their connections, their economic activities." 
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's Africa tour in early May spotlights China's initiative to bring more capital and more development into the continent. 
SOUNDBITE(Tilahun): Ethiopian worker 
"These days are very happy. Congratulations! Ethiopia and China, together work! I think it' s very very nice!" 
The second phase project is just getting started on the new highway linking Addis Ababa and Ethiopia's second largest city of Adama. 
The 78-kilometer long highway will be constructed by Chinese enterprises using Chinese technology and standards. 
During the Chinese Premier's Africa tour, the premier depicted a dream that all African capitals are connected with high-speed rail so as to boost pan-African communication and development. 
And the role that Chinese companies and individuals play in Africa is much more diverse than the railway itself. 
According to China's Chamber of International Commerce, trade between China and Africa increased 5.9 percent year on year to 210 billion US dollars in 2013, with more than 2,500 Chinese companies operating on the continent. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Prof. JAMIE MONSON, Macalester College 
"I think there's a lot of opportunity and in some ways I think that China in Africa has been willing, Chinese investors and even Chinese government has been willing to get into some sectors that other investors and other governments may not have been getting into before." 
Still, many challenges remain. 
"One of the challenges ahead will be about how to manage the very different kinds of Chinese engagements especially these engagements are not easy for local governments to regulate. What is the responsibility of China in those situations?" 
Prior to his African tour, Premier Li Keqiang had spoken about how Chinese and African companies had encountered "growing pains" in recent years. He also urged Chinese enterprises to strictly abide by local laws and regulations. 
Wei Jianguo, who spent more than ten years in Africa as a commercial counselor, says that Chinese investors in Africa are starting to pay more attention to promoting green and low carbon development, as well as the protection of local people's livelihoods. 
SOUNDBITE (CHINESE): WEI JIANGUO, Former deputy head of Chinese Commerce Ministry 
"Companies such as Sinopec, PetroChina, when doing oil exploration, they drill wells for villagers and help them resolve the drinking water problem. For some companies investing in large scale projects in Africa, they help local governments to build overpasses in order to alleviate traffic problems." 
With a team of scholars, Professor Monson has carried out TAZARA's life history research via fieldwork and documentaries since 2010. 
And according to her, the railway always has a different picture. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Prof. JAMIE MONSON, Macalester College 
"When the railway is running well, it brings benefits not only for the investors but also for those people who live along the railway." 
Some say it's the journey, not the destination that matters most. As the railway continues to evolve and shape the future, for Professor Monson, the research continues.