Invest More in Africa's Roads
Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest road densities in the world, second only to Latin America. Populations in the latter are concentrated largely along the coast, thus reducing the impact of inadequate roads on economic development, but in Africa the shortage of roads is a major constraint on development. A thinly spread population across the continent struggles to develop the kinds of trade links which could help reduce poverty. The comparison with Asia is stark, which has seven times the amount of road to surface area that Africa has.
A third of Africa's population is landlocked – like Uganda – which increases the dependence on roads. More than 90% of all passenger and freight transport in Uganda is by road and the railway infrastructure is negligible. It has been calculated that every 1% increase in distance increases costs by 0.25%. Or put it another way, the 2005 Commission on Africa cited research that transport costs put 80% on the price of Ugandan clothing.
The goods which finally reach Katine market all bear the cost of transport over hundreds of miles to get there. Every Katine farmer ends up paying steeply for the costs of transporting his goods to market. Those farmers who live in parishes in the Katine sub-county which are further away from the main road are at even more of a disadvantage. The shocking fact is that up to a half of crops produced in fertile areas in Uganda can go to waste – rotting, disease or termites – before they can reach a market to be sold because of a combination of poor roads, lack of transport and little storage.
This is why weak transport infrastructure features so prominently in any analysis of sub-Saharan Africa's poverty. Roads are the basic building blocks of development, but as Paul Collier points out in his book, The Bottom Billion, investment in this kind of infrastructure by aid agencies declined as the emphasis moved in the 1990s to investing in human capital – health and education. This had the added advantage of being more appealing to electorates in donor countries. Collier blames an "exaggerated belief" that the private sector would fill the gap and build roads.
A crucial decade was lost, but the fashion has changed again and since 2001, the World Bank has been funding a major programme of road building in Uganda. This will total $385m over four phases to repair and upgrade 830km of national roads and improve 1,300km of district roads. Now, 25% of all World Bank aid to Uganda is going into road building.
To read the full article please visit the Guardian website.
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