Road transport is realising Africa's full potential

R390 road 001(Image source: Rute Martins of Leoa's Photography/Commons)Moin Siddiqi reports on road transport, and its continuing critical role in realising Africa’s full potential 

Efficient transport networks enable access to goods, services and opportunities. Globally, countries invest in total between US$1.4-2.1tn annually in transport infrastructure to meet the demand for mobility and connectivity.

The World Bank reported, “Africa’s development is highly dependent on an adequate, reliable road system. Good-quality road connections can greatly expand access to jobs, markets, schools and hospitals.

For rural communities, a road is often an essential lifeline that links isolated villages to economic opportunities.”

“The problem of Africa can be summed up in one word: transport”, remarked Sir Frederick Lugard, the first colonial governor general of Nigeria, a century ago. Ironically, transportation chain (rural and urban) is still a constraint on rather than a facilitator of economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Road transport remains the principal mode of motorised transport, accounting for over four-fifths of freight and passenger traffic in SSA – hence reflecting low availability of railway lines within the continent (excepting South Africa).

Road density in cities is reportedly low; the road to population ratio for all of Africa is estimated at 26-km per 10,000 people.

The bulk of road surfaces have depleted over decades, reflecting a lack of maintenance and upgrades, with only a quarter of all current roads, totalling more than 2.8mn km across the vast continent that is paved. Other problems are traffic congestion and accidents. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the highest number of road fatalities per capita is reported in SSA – estimated at 225,000 people yearly. Travel times spent travelling across urban areas are also considerable. Africa’s difficult geography presents a logistic challenge for road construction.

Existing intraregional road networks are characterised by major discontinuities. Hence, SSA countries (excepting South Africa) score badly on the Global Logistics Performance Index due to poor road connectivity within sub-regions coupled with underdevelopment of systems and trade facilitation procedures. 

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