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ALGERIA: On June 28, Algiers hosted the 73rd Ministerial Session of the Trans-Saharan Road Liaison Committee (CLRT). This meeting brought together ministers from countries interested in this strategic road, namely Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, as well as national and international financial institutions.

Conceived from the outset as a mega-project to connect the countries of the dark continent and embody the ideal of cooperation, the African Union path, renamed the Trans-Ahara Way, is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. . “I have given this project over forty years of my life and I am proud of everything that has been done so far,” says Mohamed Ayadi, Secretary General of the CLRT. Is the still unfinished project a political utopia? Absolutely not, according to Mr. Ayadi.

The Trans-Saharan Road (RTS), still unfinished in the Malian and Chadian parts, is to cross Algiers (3400 km), Tunisia (900 km), Mali (1974 km), Niger (1635 km), Chad (900 km) and Nigeria (1131 km). It already connects the two capitals of the Maghreb, Algiers and Tunisia, and should eventually connect the four sub-Saharan capitals of Bamako, Niamey, N’Djamena and Lagos.

The work of the RTS, which began in 1975, “often stalled for a number of reasons,” admits Mohamed Ayadi, specifying that this refers, in particular, to the “lack of funds.” In March 2012, the Kuwait Economic Development Fund provided Niger with a loan of 5 billion CFA francs (1 CFA franc = €0.0015) to develop and pave the axis connecting the city of Arlit to Assamaka on the Algerian border. This work has been completed.

Mr. Ayadi admits that the delay is also due to the “consequences of political instability” in some countries of the Sahel, in particular the war in Mali and threats from terrorist groups in the Greater Sahara.

He prefers to focus on “what has been achieved” rather than mentioning delays “which are an objective consequence of the political reality and difficult economic situation.” Indeed, “RTS already exists” for Mohamed Ayadi, who cites Tunisia and Nigeria as examples that have completed their sections, as well as Algeria, while Mali, Niger and Chad are using international financial institutions in the hope of completing what is left of the project .

Megaproject, for what economic benefit?

Mr. Ayadi is optimistic about the economic benefits of this mega project, which “coincides with the desire of states to increase the volume of intra-African trade, which remains low (3%), while the agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (Zlecaf) entered into force , and Algeria, seeking to change the model of its approach to economic development, is sending signals of greater openness to the continent,” he emphasizes.

The Secretary General of the CLRT points out that as an economic infrastructure, “the RTS is ripe for concretizing the goals of this project, namely the acceleration, strengthening and consolidation of commercial exchanges between member countries for greater regional integration. “. Mohamed Ayadi also points out that the rate of progress is over 90% and explains that the 6 member countries represent 27% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the continent and 25% of its population. This is precisely what needs to be emphasized, according to him, who recalls that the RTA “was originally designed to strengthen economic exchanges between the countries of the Maghreb and the Sahel.”

What about the economic viability and social impact of this African mega project? Mr. Ayadi emphasizes the need for member countries to “take action, including the conclusion of a strategic agreement defining a mechanism for cooperation and a sustainable management system to achieve the goal of cooperation at the regional level.” In this regard, he believes that if the RTS is not a determining variable for improving the economic situation, “nevertheless, it is a factor that can activate economic operators and significantly increase the level of trade exchanges.”

RTS: the nerve of the inter-African economy

Referring to the urgent need to “create a body to promote trade among member countries”, Mohamed Ayadi elaborated that “this aspiration is in line with the objectives of the African Union and strategies to support international partners in the social and economic development of the continent.”

Viewing RTS as a strategic nerve, the CLRT Secretary General believes that economic approaches to the management of road infrastructure and transport in general bring to the fore a system known as “trade and transport corridors”.

“From an economic point of view, the function of the corridor is to facilitate domestic and foreign trade by providing more efficient transport and logistics services, as well as supporting connectivity and economic development along the routes,” Mr. Ayadi explains, adding: “These corridors allow regions and offer member countries high-capacity transport systems and services that reduce transport time, as well as trade and transport costs through economies of scale.”

“The feasibility study showed that operators in northern Niger and northern Mali who would ship their goods via RTS from Mediterranean ports rather than through the Gulf of Guinea would save eleven days,” he points out. In his view, regional corridors are particularly important for landlocked countries, for which they represent an economic opportunity, often providing the only land routes to ports of entry and to regional and international markets.

Together, Nigeria and Algeria represent 77% of the total population and 88% of the total GDP of the countries of the RTAC Corridor.

Mohamed Ayadi emphasizes that “any project aimed at transforming the RTA road corridors into an economic corridor and modernizing border posts should be focused on trade and adequate integration of the local population, benefiting from relevant activities in the economic development of a predominantly regional level. This is the characteristic of the RTS, which in the future could become the “Silk Road of the Continent”, hopes the Secretary General of the CLRT.