• The last decade has brought tremendous progress in the establishment of sound institutions to manage and maintain Africa’s trunk road network, but the process remains incomplete.
  • However good the quality of the roads, road freight will continue to be costly and inefficient until competition in the trucking industry is increased and barriers to trade are lifted.
  • Better access to roads in rural areas is critical to raising agricultural productivity.
  • Africa’s rapidly growing cities groan under the mobility problems caused by too few paved roads and inadequate public transportation systems.
  • Road traffic crashes are the third leading cause of death after malaria and HIV/AIDS and present a major public health concern.

Most African countries have improved road conditions and governments have been addressing low density and the poor condition of their road networks. They have also tackled institutional reforms with remarkable consensus in content. Nonetheless, road maintenance is still inadequate in many countries and the reform agenda is incomplete. The building and improvement of urban roads lags behind urbanisation rates and rural connectivity is very poor leaving millions disconnected from the road network. Freight tariffs are high due to the lack of competition in the trucking industry. The Trans-Africa Highway, which has symbolised modern Africa, has long gaps.

Spending needs

Spending needs for the road sector amount to around US$9.6 billion a year, skewed toward capital expenditure. Because of their mature road network, the middle-income countries account for little more than 10% of this total. Except in middle-income countries, about two-thirds of spending requirements relate to capital expenditure, with the remainder attributable to operation and maintenance. Thus, overall, the region needs to spend 1.5% of GDP on roads, of which 0.6% of GDP is needed for road maintenance. However, the burden for low-income fragile states is very high – in excess of 7% of GDP.

Existing spending on the sector amounts to US$6.9 billion a year, significantly less than what is needed. Spending in the fragile states is particularly low, barely one-tenth of what is required. The public sector finances two-thirds of road sector spending and more than one-half of road sector investment. In the low income countries about half of road sector expenditure is donor financed. The contribution of the private sector to road finance in Africa is almost negligible.

Implementation of efficiency-oriented reforms could raise a total of US$3.8 billion a year, largely eliminating the funding gap, except in fragile states. The greatest scope for efficiency gains lies in practicing sound preventive maintenance, which in the medium term would substantially reduce the investments needed to clear the rehabilitation backlog, saving an estimated US$1.9 billion per year. Low ratios of capital budget execution are also holding back public investment in roads. Addressing this issue would capture a further US$1.3 billion annually. Finally, some countries face difficulties in collecting revenues owed to their road funds; solving this problem would capture another US$0.6 billion a year of resources.

(Source: AICD)

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