Strategic planning is key to transforming Africa’s transport sector, according to experts present at the African Development Bank’s Transport Forum held at its headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on November 26 and 27.
At a session on “Sector Reforms, Governance and Institutional Capacity”, participants underscored the need to align transport plans and programs with other strategies in order to achieve sustainable growth. “Planning is core. It is important that transport plans and strategies are aligned to development and poverty reduction strategies. This will ensure comprehensive growth on the continent,” noted Guy Kalisa, Director General of the Rwanda Transport Development Agency.
Current transport strategies are not pro-poor. They provide inadequate and unequal access, said Tesfamichael Nahusenay, Deputy Program Manager with Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy program (SSATP). The program estimates that about 60 percent of the rural population in Sub-Saharan Africa lives beyond two kilometres from an all-season road.
A single transport strategy for Africa was proposed as a critical tool that would help countries harmonize their transport structures, ensuring they serve the needs of all, including rural areas. “It is this one document that all individual countries will ascribe to, so that all unreached areas in all of our countries are reached,” observed Elias Mwape, the Director for Construction and Rehabilitation in Zambia’s Road Development Agency.
He noted the importance of good governance in improving the transport sector. “We will only deliver results to our populations if we are able to audit and disclose what we are doing. Lack of good governance has crippled this sector; we need reforms that will promote good governance and transparency,” Mwape continued.
This view was supported by Nahusenay, who described good governance as “sharing our visions and ensuring mutual accountability to the ones we serve.” According to the World Bank, Africa has spent billions of dollars on improving and rehabilitating transport infrastructure. However poor governance has been perpetuated by weak policies, legislation and regulations at many levels without any checks on how services are eventually delivered to users of transport, and whether their expectations are actually met.
The African Development Bank’s Director of Transport and ICT, Amadou Oumarou, outlined the steps taken by the institution to ensure accountability. “Among many other things, we most importantly assess how a country does its procurement; is there a transparent way of bidding for contracts and for getting value for money?
“All these steps, from planning to execution, have to be done transparently, in a participatory manner and must have the approval of the leadership,” added Oumarou.
The meeting called for urgent measures to fix gaps in the transport sector in order to attract much-needed private-sector investment. “We need to be able to embrace the private-sector concept of funding roads. “If we stick to the old way of funding through taxes, it is going to be difficult for us as a continent,” said Mwape.
Most African countries are grappling with the challenge of meeting their needs for road construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation through dwindling public financing. Increasingly, the situation cannot be resolved without increased participation from the private sector.