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Visit to Egypt’s Suez Canal

ALEX NJOVU, Ismailia OVER three decades ago, my social studies teacher at Mwavi Primary School in Luangwa, a Mr Lungu, eloquently elucidated the significance of the Suez Canal and its positive impact on the Egyptian economy. The Suez Canal, also known as Qanat as-Suways in Arabic, is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The canal was opened in 1898. Recently, echoes of Mr Lungu’s lesson on the Suez Canal flashed back into my mind when we drove into Ismailia, a northern Egyptian city that attracts thousands of tourists every year. “The Suez Canal is a pride and joy of Egypt,” Mr Lungu once told us in class. True to Mr Lungu’s lecture, the canal is an enormous waterway that separates the African continent from Asia. It provides the shortest voyage between Europe and the lands around the Indian and Western Pacific oceans. With a population of more than 80 million, Egypt’s future heavily relies on the new canal being erected alongside the old one. I happened to be among fellow African journalists when we recently visited part of the canal, a vital economic feature that attracts massive foreign exchange to Egypt. In its efforts to enhance revenue collection from the activities around the canal, the Egyptian government is currently expanding the canal, turning it into a “dual carriage” waterway. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who recently launched the new Suez Canal expansion project alongside the existing one, urged authorities to finish the ambitious venture within a year. President Sisi wants the new canal to become operational by August 2015. Egyptians have put their differences aside and are working round the clock to develop the country whose economic progression was decelerated due to internal political turmoil following the ousting of long-time President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The political strife left behind the toughest part of the country’s economic woes, according to Minister of Finance Hani Qadri Damian as quoted in the Egyptian Gazette. When completed, the new canal project is expected to inject approximately $13.5 billion into the country’s coffers per year. Currently, there are more than 40 national companies working on the project and experts say the number will increase to 64 within the next few months. Head of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Mamish said the new seaway will be opened for navigation on August 6 next year as per plan. Mr Mamish said Egyptians have the will and capabilities to face challenges and crush any difficulties. “We are in a race against time to restore the economic and political position that Egypt deserves. The Suez Canal project will definitely affect the international trade volume, especially the trade exchange between the East and the West,” he said. Mr Mamish told the Egyptian Gazette recently that the project has five means of sourcing finances: members of the public, national investors, government, businessmen and national banks. He applauded the high demand for the new investment certificates offered to fund the new project, whose sales reached about US$2.79 million in only three days. “The new 72-kilometre waterway will help speed up the transiting of vessels and reduce the waiting time for passing from 11 hours to only three hours. “By reducing the transiting time of vessels, the canal will be the fastest means to transfer trade between the East and the West,” Mr  Mamish said. The project is expected to create one million jobs for the local people, and is further envisaged to go a long way in boosting  Egypt’s export volumes. The Suez Canal has been a key source of international trade, earning Egypt nearly US$5 billion in annual revenues. Around 16,600 ships passed through the canal in 2013. The expansion of the canal also targets construction of an international logistics zone and increasing exports, boosting global world trade and diversifying the existing industrial and servicing activities. Mr Mamish said the New Suez Canal is a bigger project that will be connected to canals in other Egyptian cities through the five ports that will be constructed. “The two projects are a security instrument for the coming generation and will help the Arab country to restore political and economic stability in the region. “China is the biggest partner in the world trade movement and its industries play an essential role in the whole world,” Mr Mamish said, adding that the expanded Suez Canal will be an appropriate passage for Chinese products to the market. On the security threats posed by the extremists in the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal area, Mr Mamish said the waterway made its biggest revenues in 2014 despite the security and political circumstances, a proof that it is totally safe. Our 24-hour stay in Ismailia was exciting and memorable. Although we did not have the opportunity to visit the area where the development of the new canal is taking place, we were able to see several ships within the vast waterway. It was interesting to see some Egyptians, particularly women, taking their sick relatives to bath in the Suez Canal whose water mixes with the one in the Red Sea which they believe has healing power. Some African journalists carried water from the Red Sea in containers to take to their respective countries.