African countries still can’t raise enough capital to replace their bad roads

Image: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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Africa is a rapidly urbanizing continent, with almost 50% of its population expected to live in cities by 2035. But a distinct feature of African cities is that they continue to be crowded, with unreliable transport networks and snarling traffic jams.

And unlike many other parts of the world, the continent has lower road density and quality, with the bad maintenance of roads causing accidents that kill the most number of people anywhere in the world.

Yet, despite the identification of these problems, a new report shows African countries still face significant problems when it comes to raising capital to fund infrastructural projects. The 2017 economic report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa notes that the continent lacks the capacity to develop proposals that would attract institutional lenders for financing. From the total $2 trillion raised globally for infrastructural projects, only $59 billion was received in Africa.

This deficiency in urban road infrastructure hinders the growth and decentralization of vibrant industries, increases transportation costs on citizens, and inhibits city dwellers from accessing affordable housing options. The lack of road expansion or upgrading also thwarts employment opportunities, whether for small-scale entrepreneurs or for those directly working in quarrying, chiseling and paving roads.

The poor road networks, usually clustered in or around big cities, also affect the food supply chain, leading to loss of sellable products and late deliveries. Harvard professor Calestous Juma points out that much of Africa’s agricultural production occurs close to where there are paved roads leading to markets.

Cross-border or continental infrastructural projects continue to face difficulties either during inception or completion periods. An example of this is the standard gauge railway that hopes to connect Kenya’s Mombasa port to the capital Nairobi and to neighboring countries like Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Corruption allegations and breaches in procurement have been leveled against the project, with concerns over its costs when compared to other railway projects in the continent.