afrol News, 23 November - The new Sahel Highway, crossing much of the northern part of Mali, is moving forward. Today, constructions on the leg that will give Tombouctou (Timbuktu) a decent road connection started.
Mali's large Sahel Highway was decided on already in year 2000, as government in Bamako signed an agreement with the European Union (EU) to fund the major infrastructure investment. But works have been slow so far.
Last year, however, the new road reached the insignificant Saharan village of Goma Coura with funding from the US development agency MCC. Today, works on a new leg of the route were initiated.
Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré was present at the official launch of the works, together with Prime Minister, Modibo Sidibé and representatives from the EU.
The road linking Goma Coura and Timbuktu is to be completely paved, ten meters broad and 483 kilometres long. The euro 195 million project is to promote socio-economic development, peace and stability in the north of the country.
But the road, when finished, will also finally provide a good overland connection to Timbuktu, one of Mali's most famous tourist destinations. The ancient city is currently connected to the world by domestic flights, irregular Niger River ferries and a very poor road.
The new Sahel Highway - or "Route du Sahel" - is to become an entirely new axis of traffic in Mali, a northern parallel to the vast country's main east-west axis along the Niger River Valley.
While the country's north is very sparsely settled, it includes some major settlements such as Timbuktu. But another major reason for the MCC's and EU's funding of this very large infrastructure project is the raising concerns over the security situation in the Sahel and Sahara and the possible infiltration of terrorists in the region.
After the competition of the Goma Coura to Timbuktu route, the EU has already promised funding for the next leg of the Sahel Highway. From Timbuktu, the great "Northern trans-Saharan axis" is to continue eastwards to Bourem Kidal, according to a statement by the EU. That 250 kilometres leg has a budget of euro 35 million.
There are further unconfirmed plans to extend this trans-Saharan route towards the Algerian frontier, at Bordj-Badji-Mokhtar, where a minor road northwards crosses the desert and ends up at the Mediterranean Sea. If realised, this could re-establish Timbuktu as the main centre on the trans-Saharan trade and travel routes.
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