It’s a road that will link six African nations, improving transport and delivering high-speed internet across the continent. And at In Guezzam, on the border between Algeria and Niger, the last section of what’s been called the African Unity Road is nearing completion.
Conceived over 50 years ago, the Trans-Saharan Highway runs almost 5,000 kilometres from Algiers to Lagos in Nigeria. Its goal is to strengthen regional integration and promote trade between the north and south of the Sahara.
“The Trans-Saharan is an economic artery for Algeria in the framework of free trade,” says Fayçal Amrouche, Wali of In-Guezzam. “First and foremost it will bring economic benefits and also social benefits for the whole population, which is expecting a lot from it.
“Overall, the residents of In-Guezzam are pleased with this seven-kilometre stretch of road, which is the last section of the African Unity Road on the border with Niger,” adds Brahim Ben Khia, President of the Popular Assembly in the Wilaya of In-Guezzam. “It’s a construction that’s built to international standards.”
From Saharan dunes to high plateaus to the capital Algiers, National Road 1, as it’s known in Algeria, crosses the country in all its diversity and links remote areas, such as Tamanrasset, the historic meeting place of nomadic caravans, and still a commercial hub, 1900 kilometres from Algiers.
“The Wilaya of Tamanrasset is a crossroads of all African civilisations,” says Noureddine Guellal, Director Of Public Works and Wilaya of Tamanrasset. “Barter transactions have increased in recent years. The list of products to be exported and imported is revised each year according to our needs and those of our neighbours.”
To cope with this influx, existing sections are being modernised. Following technical studies which took into account the difficult Saharan conditions, their load capacity and width are being increased to ensure safe passage for trucks.
“The RN1 is the main artery between Europe and North Africa,” says truck driver Louzri Abderrezak. “Without the RN1, we’re done for!”
But it’s not just roads that connect people. There’s also the internet. This road is lined with thousands of kilometres of cable as part of another multinational project: the Trans-Saharan Fibre Optic Backbone.
These technical centres maintain the bandwidth, which has almost doubled over the past two years.
“These are the incoming fibre strands of the trans-Saharan backbone,” Bilel Bouglouf, Director Of Post And Telecommunications in the Wilaya Of Tamanrasset, show me. “Their exit towards the borders is through here. Thanks to this trans-Saharan fibre optic backbone, there’s the same internet speed in Algiers as in Tamanrasset.”
The Internet is changing daily life in this large southern city. Credit cards are becoming more widely used in shops. In schools, touch-screen tablets are given to students to encourage creativity and autonomy.
“The arrival of fibre optics has enabled the creation of digital schools,” says Ibtissem Merahi, Director of the Abdelkrim El Meghili Primary Boarding School. “This has had a huge impact on pupils’ education.”
Algeria has completed its part of the fibre optic backbone, more than 2,500 kilometres from Algiers towards Mauritania to a central hub on the border with Niger.
Six African countries are members of the project, which is intended to offer a cheaper alternative to satellite solutions.
“This project will also enable access to the international market for countries that have no coastline, no access to the sea and no submarine cable,” says Mourad El-Allia Secretary General Trans-Saharan Liaison Committee. “It allows start-ups and innovation to emerge, and also allows women to showcase their work. It also enables distance learning. It allows us to contribute to the digital development of our African nations.”
Another major cooperation project could see the light of day on the same axis: a trans-Saharan gas pipeline between Nigeria and Algeria via Niger.