Kenya Traffic Jam: A Sign of Weak African Transportation Infrastructure
By admin November 20, 2015



A 50 km (30 mile) traffic jam in Kenya is the latest example of the transportation difficulties African countries face. The jam is on the road from Mombasa to Nairobi and has left some stranded for more than 48 hours. More than 1,500 trucks are estimated to be in the jam, which was caused by road repairs after a heavy rain. The BBC has reported that it takes up to a day to make the 500 km journey, and many fly rather than risk driving the distance. There is a train system, but it is old and takes several days to make the trip.

The African Development Bank Group has reported that strides have been made by African countries to improve road networks and create institutions to manage and maintain them. However, only one in three rural Africans have access to an all-season road, leaving them unable to reach urban markets. Further, road development has fallen behind urbanization, and road maintenance is a real struggle for African countries. The Bank has said the proportion of paved roads in Africa is five times less than in developed countries, and transportation costs are 63% higher. Transportation costs represent up to 50% of total export value in Africa, rising even higher for landlocked countries. These transportation issues have caused Africa to have very low levels of intra-regional trade, about 11% over the past decade, and of global trade.

The U.S. has asked Africa to improve its ability to trade between regions. Most recently, in 2015, President Obama spoke on the issue at the African Union headquarters. “The biggest markets for your goods are often right next door. You don’t have to just look overseas for growth, you can look internally…it shouldn’t be harder for African countries to trade with each other than it is for you to trade with Europe and America,” he said.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) created the Programme for Infrastructure Development (PIDA) in 2010 to address these transportation concerns. Projects have included the Trans-Sahara highway (also known as the Algiers-Lagos highway), which will connect North Africa with Sub-Saharan Africa.

Railway travel is deficient in every African state except South Africa. China has taken the lead in rail infrastructure; major projects have included the $12 billion Coastal Railway in Nigeria, the $8.3 billion Lagos-Kano railway also in Nigeria, the $5.6 billion Chad-Sudan Railway, the $3.4 billion Kenya standard-gauge railway, and the $1.38 billion Khartoum – Port Sudan railway. Functioning railways can boost the local economy and help move goods throughout the country, the region and to global ports.

Upgrading Africa’s transportation infrastructure will have a ripple effect throughout the continent, and allow true economic growth and integration into the global trading system. Maintenance will then become key to ensure roads and railways remain useful. Continued jams like the one in Kenya can only hold the continent back.

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