Join Chinese-Zimbabwean film-maker Sekai Zengeza and other distinguished speakers as we explore the complex and fascinating story of the Iron Snake Railway – a railway that would transform East Africa and draw attention to competing ideologies behind drivers of change.
There is an old East African prophecy about an Iron Snake, slithering out of the Indian Ocean and winding its way westward across the African plains. The prophecy said that when this snake arrived, it would bring strangers who would bring change.
This prophecy has been realised twice: first in 1901 when the British Government constructed the East African railway from Mombasa to Nairobi and beyond; second in 2017, when the Chinese finished constructing the ‘Madaraka Express’.
The railway first connected East Africa to a globalised, colonial world, bringing economic, geographic, demographic and political transformation. But with the fall of the British Empire, the railway began to fall into serious disrepair.
Cue the arrival of the Chinese, and the ‘second coming’ of the Iron Snake. The Chinese rebuilt and replaced many sections of the line and, by 2017, had effectively reinstated the old service. At face value this is a positive development; it reconnects East Africa to the global economy, encouraging wider prosperity. However, the picture is not so simple.
A war of ideologies?
There has always been conflict over the attribution of successful drivers of change and technological attainment. But is this a genuine effort at collaborative international development? If there is an ideological battle at play, who is in control? Will China's motives always be treated with suspicion when it comes to infrastructural investment in Africa. Is this fair?
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