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A proposed tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar is seen as "the future of Africa." Spain and Morocco toil for dream

The Future of Africa?

Samir Arrech writes: A proposed tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar is seen as ” the future of Africa” Spain and Morocco toil for dream. This article was recently reported by “Philadelphia Inquirer” newspaper, and discusses a project development partnership between Morocco and Spain. The postulated development plan involves a 17-mile tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar that would connect Northern Morocco to Southern Spain and/or Africa to Europe. The underwater tunnel development team consists of Moroccan-Spanish engineers with the assistance of Japanese experts for doing the feasibility study. Imagine the endless opportunities that this project would open up to all of us!!! “It would be a revolution that would radically transform the entire infrastructure of the region” said Abdel Aziz Mezian, an engineer who is in charge of the project from the Moroccan side. Although the task is not easy and it will require time and money; the Moroccan government along with the Spanish government are still firmly behind the project. For more details read the following reports:


A proposed tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar is seen as "the future of Africa." Spain and Morocco toil for dream

By Barbara Demick

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

TANGIER, Morocco - The ferryboats glide out of the port, their deep horns like percussion for the prayer calls from the mosque. As night falls, you can see dimly through the haze the lights from the coast of Spain twinkling with the allure of the wealth that lies on the other side of the waters.

As far as many Moroccans are concerned, there but for fortune they would be living in Europe.

It was only an accident of geology that opened up the rift, eight miles wide at its narrowest, known as the Strait of Gibraltar. Scientists agree that the Barbary apes and partridges on the Rock of Gibraltar - the English colony at the southern tip of Spain - are otherwise indigenous only to Africa, suggesting a prehistoric link. Myth has it that Hercules wrenched apart the continents.

Today, the Moroccan government is hoping to fix what nature got wrong. Along with the Spanish government, it is drawing up plans for a 17-mile-long underwater tunnel that would run from near this port city to southern Spain and reconnect the continents. It is a futurist, almost utopian project that its promoters say would equal the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal in its geopolitical implications.

"This is the future of Africa," extols Abdel Aziz Meziane, an engineer who is in charge of the project from the Moroccan side. "It would be a revolution that would radically transform the entire infrastructure of the region."

"Just imagine: You could drive from the farther point in Europe to Timbuktu. The opportunities it will open up are endless," added Andre Azoulay, the top economic adviser in the Moroccan royal palace.

Hard at work studying the feasibility of such a tunnel are teams of Moroccan and Spanish engineers, assisted by Japanese experts in underwater tunnel-building. They have excavated three exploratory tunnels - one just east of Tangier on the Moroccan coast and two near the Spanish town of Tarifa.

Two months ago, Norwegian engineers working from an offshore rig drilled one-quarter mile into the floor of the strait to examine the underlying rock.

The dream of a link between Europe and Africa dates to 1979, when Morocco's King Hassan II and Spain's Juan Carlos I signed an agreement to work on the project. Eight years ago, Hassan boasted in an interview that Morocco "would unite what geography has divided" by the year 2000. But the king died July 23, passing on the dream to his 36-year-old son, Mohamed VI, who for several years has served as president of the National Society for the Study of the Strait, an agency set up expressly for the project.

One reason for the delay was that engineers discovered, to their dismay, that the shortest route across the strait also contained the deepest water. That forced them to shift the plans to a longer crossing point, between Cape Malabata, just east of Tangier, and Point Canales, west of Tarifa, Spain.

They also nixed the original plan - for a suspension bridge - on the grounds that it would be too dangerous in the busy shipping channel between the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The plan currently on the drawing boards is not so far-fetched, from an engineering standpoint - in fact, the tunnel would be easier to build than the 31-mile-long tunnel under the English Channel. The biggest impediment is how to raise the $4 billion it would cost to build only the first phase, a railroad tunnel. That task will not be made any easier given the financial woes of the "Channel," whose owner, Eurotunnel, ran up $15 billion in debts and nearly went bankrupt last year.

Nevertheless, the Moroccans persist. Along with Spain, they intend to start an intensive lobbying campaign next year to get the European Union to cough up some money to build an exploratory tunnel across the Strait of Gibraltar that eventually would serve as the service gallery for the passenger tunnel.

"You cannot analyze a project like this based on cash flows over five or six years," Meziane said. "This is a project to be looked at over a century."

An engineer by profession, Meziane has been on the project since its inception in 1979, working today out of an office in the royal palace in Rabat. His bookshelves are filled with gold-embossed, leather-bound volumes of engineering studies. On the wall is a satellite photo of Morocco and Spain in which the distance apart seems a mere matter of millimetres.

Despite the frustrations, Meziane has an almost messianic faith that the tunnel would have an equalizing effect, eventually helping to bring Africa up to the living standards of Europe. He presents a vision of Africans and Europeans riding together on sleek, fast trains between one another's continents, eradicating disparities in wealth and development.

"This project is far more important than the English Channel tunnel. That was built from one economically developed area to another," Meziane said. "The institutions of the world are all becoming equalized, standardized. Africa eventually has to be part of that current."

There is already a brisk traffic via ferryboats between Africa and Europe. The largest port is here in Tangier. The city once renowned for its brothels and dissolute expatriate writers is now dominated by a sprawling ferry terminal where at the height of the summer season some 24,000 people and 6,200 automobiles cross daily. About half of those crossing are Moroccan guest workers with menial jobs in Europe, and most of the others European tourists.

At the same time, there is a large clandestine traffic of African workers without permits trying to sneak across in small fishing boats. The harragas, as they call the illegal workers, are mostly teenagers from Senegal. At the port, boys as young as 13 can be seen trying the doors of the giant tractor-trailers, hoping to smuggle themselves across with freight.

Some European firms are starting to avail themselves of the cheaper labor in Morocco by setting up factories here. One Dutch firm operating out of the port brings in shrimp to be shelled by Moroccan women and then sails them back across the strait to Europe. This type of industry is expected to flourish if a tunnel is built.

Nevertheless, the project is likely to be more popular among Moroccans than Europeans, fearful of a tide of illegal immigrants from Africa. The Spanish government, however, is still firmly behind the project and says it could control illegal immigration.

For Moroccans, though, the dream of the tunnel seems to symbolize their aspirations to attain the standards of Europe.

"It would be formidable," said Elarbi Moujjani, a 45-year-old Moroccan worker who speaks fluent French and Spanish and has a Spanish wife. "We feel like we are part of Europe already. But a tunnel would be much better than the ferries. My wife gets seasick."

"This is what we need - an umbilical cord with Europe," agreed Mohammed Ainouz, an official at the ferry terminal in Tangier.

Morocco is trying to negotiate its way into the European Union - at a status that would be less than that of a full member but higher than that of an associate member. The new king, Mohamed VI, has made improved relations with Europe his priority. Azoulay, the king's economic adviser, said he also hopes that Morocco's dispute with Algeria over the Western Sahara will soon be resolved, opening Morocco's long-closed borders with its neighbour and providing potential European investors with a larger and more tempting market in North Africa.

Azoulay isn't making any predictions about when the tunnel will be built. But he believes it is inevitable.

"Geographically, historically and culturally, Morocco is closer to Western Europe than most of Eastern Europe.The Strait of Gibraltar is just a geological accident."

 

 

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