The British and the French built their “Chunnel”, the Channel Tunnel for all the money it was worth, between 1988 and 1994, to enjoin the British Isles to mainland Europe. It had been in the planning for a century.
Apparently, men stopped daring in the 1960s when they sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon, or the 1970s, when such things as the Chunnel were urgent and feasible. Since then, we became less ambitious and more fractious. The 1980s were spent breaking the Soviet Union, and the 1990s fighting over resources in the Middle East and Africa. Today, we only think about terrorism and religious intolerance.
I wonder why an engineer, African or else, is yet to be inspired by the image of the stiffened spine of a snake to create an over-water bridge above the Read Sea, to unite Africa and Asia at Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden. It is a grand project, just like President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt dredging the new Suez Canal.
Enabling train and road travel between Africa and Asia is the great engineering miracle of this new century. Air travel is fast and shipping cheap, but nothing beats travelling over terra-firma, or its bridging equivalent.
I bet shuttling through the Chunnel is one of the finest experiences on earth. Travelling knowing there is an ocean overhead, and yet confident in the work of the project engineers. That is just like travelling in space. Anything is possible. Give Africans a similar experience. Let then fly while grounded.
It is that air of possibility that I wish some technocrats could imbue into Eastern Africa and Saudi Arabia, to build a dual-snake bridge that gently arcs over the Gulf of Aden, 100 metres above the centre, allowing all sizes of cargo ships to float by underneath, while cargo trucks, passenger shuttle-buses, cars and trains swoosh by above.
It has to be a double-barrel aerial arc, because the gulf is 300 metres deep. It would not be very efficient trying to build stilts that long, to support a bridge. Therefore, the bridge tubing has to be self-supporting.
Imagine two huge pipes – say of 14 to 20 metres diameter, anchored five kilometers inland on either shore, and about six kilometers apart.
As these pipes cross the gulf, they are built closer and closer until their sides conjoin in a Siamese-weld at the middle-point of the strait. This touching of the sides creates mutual support for their unfathomable weight, and allows the whole structure to endure above the sea, distributing the incidence of weight on the structure and minimizing gravitational forces.
In each pipe, lay two parallel train tracks along the two-metre segment, and a five lane-highway just above the radius.
Those are easily four train tracks and 10 lanes of road traffic within the pair of barrels, running between Aden and Djibouti. At each terminal, set up a very strict border control point, and ensure it is nigh impossible to scale the outside walls of the structure, not that humans will not dare to.
It is possible, and at 30 kilometres across, would not be the most expensive project ever. It is cheaper than the military bases that overlook the straits, anyway. The Europeans can replicate the idea at the Strait of Gibraltar, between Morocco and Spain, and truly connect Africa to her neighbours.
#BuildTheSnake, Saudi Arabia, and the African Union! It is in the economic interest of us all.
Oh, where are the Chinese when one needs them?