Cape to Cairo Railway

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The Rhodes Colossus — Cape to Cairo Railway.

The Cape to Cairo Railway is an uncompleted project to cross Africa from south to north by rail. This plan was initiated at the end of the 19th century, during the time of colonial rule, largely under the vision of Cecil Rhodes, in the attempt to connect adjacent African possessions of the British Empire through a continuous line from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt. While most sections of the Cape to Cairo railway are in operation, a major part is missing between northern Sudan and Uganda.

Boarding Cape to Cairo Railway in the Belgian Congo, c. 1900-1915.

Reasons for construction[edit]

British colonialism in Africa is closely linked to the concept of the Cape to Cairo Railway. Cecil Rhodes was instrumental in securing the southern states of the continent for the British Empire and envisioned a continuous "red line" of British dominions from north to south. A railway would be a critical element in this scheme to unify the possessions, facilitate governance, enable the military to move quickly to hot spots or conduct war, help settlement and foster trade. The construction of this project presented a major technological challenge.

France had a rival strategy in the late 1890s to link its colonies from west to east across the continent, Senegal to Djibouti. Southern Sudan and Ethiopia were in the way, but France sent expeditions in 1897 to establish a protectorate in southern Sudan and to find a route across Ethiopia. The scheme foundered when a British flotilla on the River Nile confronted the French expedition at the point of intersection between the French and British routes, leading to the Fashoda Incident and eventual diplomatic defeat for France.

The Portuguese had similar ideas, and produced the "Pink Map" representing their claims to sovereignty in Africa.

Reasons for failure to complete[edit]

Map showing almost complete British control of the Cape to Cairo route, 1914
  British control

British interests had to overcome not only the formidable obstacles posed by geography and climate, but also interfering ambitions by other powers, the Fashoda incident, and the Portuguese ambition to link Angola and Mozambique - known as the Pink Map. Opposition to British rule in South Africa was settled after the First and Second Boer Wars. Germany had secured a critical piece of territory in East Africa that precluded completion of the north-south link. However, with the defeat of Germany in 1918, most of this territory fell into British hands and politically the link was closed. After 1918, the British Empire possessed the political power to complete the Cape-Cairo Railway, but economic issues precluded its completion between the world wars. After World War II, the national struggles of the African peoples and the demise of colonialism removed the foundations for its completion.

Current links[edit]

Overview of routes discussed. Not all links displayed were finished.

Northern section[edit]

Egypt has a rail system that as early as 1854 connected Alexandria and Cairo, and that currently goes as far south as Aswan. In Egypt the railway is 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge. After a ferry link up on the Nile, the railway continues in Sudan from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum at the 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge; see Northern Africa Railroad Development. This part of the system was started by Lord Kitchener in 1897 when he subjugated the Mahdist uprising. Further railway links go south, the most southern point being Wau. A large part of the Sudanese railway network is currently in disrepair due to political turmoil.[citation needed]

Uganda railway[edit]

East Africa has a network of narrow gauge 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) railways that historically grew from ports on the Indian Ocean and went westward, built in parallel under British and German colonial rule. The furthest string north was the Uganda Railway. Eventually these networks were linked, so that today there is a continuous rail connection between Kampala, Uganda, on Lake Victoria to the coastal cities of Mombasa in Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. Up to the break-up of the East African Community in 1977, these companies operated as East African Railways, but operate today as different national companies: the Uganda Railways Corporation Uganda railways corporation's assets were sold over 13 years ago when government failed to run the corporation, as the cost of running it was greater that the returns. Today, railway business in Uganda is run by Rift Valley Railways of Kenya, the Kenya Railways Corporation, and the Tanzania Railways Corporation.[citation needed]

TAZARA link[edit]

From Dar-es-Salaam, a separate 1,860 km link to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia was completed after six years by workers of the People's Republic of China in 1976. This Tanzania-Zambia-Railway (TAZARA) was built to connect landlocked Zambia and its mineral wealth to the port at the Indian Ocean, independent from connections through South Africa or at that time Portuguese controlled territory. Yet, while not intended in the grand picture of the Cape to Cairo Railway, the TAZARA fills a critical link. This connection is at the same 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge as the system in the southern part of Africa.

Kidatu connection[edit]

In 1998, a transshipment hub was built at Kidatu in southern Tanzania to connect the metre gauge Central Line (Tanzania) with the Cape gauge TAZARA line. This also shortened the distance.

Southern section[edit]

Crossing at Victoria Falls

The southern section was completed during British rule before the First World War and has an interconnecting system of national railways using the Cape-gauge of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in). Construction started from Cape Town and went parallel to the Great North Road to Kimberley, through a part of Botswana to Bulawayo. From this junction the link proceeds further north, today operated by the National Railways of Zimbabwe, to the Zambezi crossing. The Victoria Falls Bridge was completed in 1905. The connection is picked up by Zambia Railways and continues to Kapiri Mposhi which is the transition point to the TAZARA link to Tanzania.

Future[edit]

The concept of the Cape to Cairo Railway is not dead. While the current turmoil in Sudan is an obstacle to its completion, tangible concepts have been forwarded to complete the link between Sudan and East Africa for economic reasons.[1] This would complete a somewhat awkward Cape to Cairo line with three gauges (1067 mm twice) and three breaks of gauge.

Road[edit]

An attempt to travel from Cape to Cairo by road was made in 1924, using two cars. [2]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gurtong.
  2. ^ "CAPETOWN TO CAIRO BY MOTOR.". The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 29 August 1924. p. 14. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]