By Hassan Isilow
PRETORIA, South Africa (AA) - Africa can learn from the example of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia on how to work together in building a train line connecting countries to boost trade, a Turkish official said Monday.
Niyazi Evren Akyol, Head of Department at the Directorate General for Energy and Multilateral Transport, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a seminar in South Africa’s capital Pretoria that African countries trade less among themselves due to difficulty in transport connectivity.
“In the past 20 years, trade between Africa and the rest of the world quadrupled, but trade among African countries is low,’’ he said, adding “intra-Africa trade is just 18 percent.” Akyol said African countries trade more with the rest of the world than themselves.
“There is a need for Africa to build the missing link,” he said at the seminar discussing the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway (BTK) project.
The 826-kilometer (513-mile) BTK railway project linking Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia was launched last year.
The railway line has the ability to transport one million passengers and 5 million tons of cargo.
Akyol blamed colonialism for the lack of rail connectivity among African countries, saying during colonialism, railway lines were built for the purpose of transporting extracted raw materials.
He encouraged African leaders to unite and speak in a single voice while seeking funds for a similar project.
Diplomats from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia accredited to South Africa lauded the project, saying it will help strengthen regional cooperation and trade and promote peace and security.
“We believe the BTK will open new opportunities. Georgia is open for continued cooperation with its neighbors,” said Beka Dvali, Georgia’s ambassador to South Africa.
Turkey’s Ambassador to South Africa Elif Comoglu Ulgen said the train project aims to boost trade and cooperation among Turkey and its neighbors.
She dismissed reports that instability in parts of the region could hinder the project’s success.
“We value security as a top priority when designing policies,” she said.
She said turbulence in the region is not an impediment to Turkey attracting investors or launching major economic projects, as it is very security conscious.