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Roads in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lack of adequate infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa is the primary problem of distribution of food. As statistics show, over half of the rural roads in sub-Saharan Africa are in a very poor condition and repairs are immediately needed (Riverson & Carapetis, 1991).  As a response to this problem, the solution will be primarily focused on improving existing major corridors and constructing roads in places where basic infrastructure is desperately demanded.

The solution is divided into two parts. First, we aim to improve the quality of and to construct new major corridors, mainly highways that connect cities in Africa. Second, we aim toimprove and to construct rural roads between farms and markets, to increase connections between producers and conusmers.

Click the links below to check out our both solutions...

1. Improving and constructing major roads between cities and countries

2. Improving and constructing rural roads between farms and markets

Our plan to increase infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa is to promote the status of major corridor construction as national projects, which will ultimately raise the GDP of the countries. This increase in national output will thereby make it easier to build and fund for rural roads. However, since the scale and potential of major corridors and rural roads are very different, we are going to propose different solutions for each case.


Figure 1. Primary and Secondary Roads in Africa

(Source: Retrieved on Nov 29th, 2010 from

As shown in this map, the regions in Africa, especially East Africa, have sparse connections with each other and the density of roads is especially low in the central region. The lack of infrastructure makes distribution between cities very difficult and implies high costs to get resources to reach people.




1. Improving and constructing major roads between cities and countries

Rural Africa has only 34% road access, lands covered by roads, as compared to 90% in the rest of the world (African Development Bank, 2010).In addition, the state of the infrastructure that does exist is generally very poor with many governments unwilling to spend the amount of money required to keep roads in basic repair(Easterly, 2001).This compounds the high poverty levels and low food security levels in Sub-Saharan Africa by impairing distribution of food aid, farmer connections to market, information exchange, and trade.

Figure 2. Primary Roads in Africa

(Source: Retrieved on Nov 29th, 2010 from

Many areas in Sub-Saharan Africa are extremely poor, a condition which fosters inadequate infrastructure construction and maintenance. In turn, poverty in these areas is increased by the isolation caused by lack of infrastructure, resulting in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap’ (Deichmann, Buys & Wheeler, 2006). A continental network upgrading proposed by the World Bank Development Research group would help bring Sub-Saharan Africa out of this trap, expanding overland trade by about $250 billion over 15 years, with “major direct and indirect benefits for the rural poor,”(Deichmann, Buys & Wheeler, 2006). This proposal examines the quality of roads in each country in Sub-Saharan Africa, quantified by a quality index that takes into account the percent of roads in a country that are paved, the country’s GDP and the level of corruption in the country’s government. Currently, the average index number is about 23 out of 100. After the quality of the road is assessed, the plan proposes raising the minimum quality index to 45, significantly improving road quality in almost all countries, which would increase trade and thus GDP, as well as making food distribution easier and more efficient. This plan applies mostly to main roads, connecting some 80 major cities in Africa. Furthermore, with the increase in trade and GDP that should result after this plan is implemented, individual countries should be able to start work upgrading smaller, more rural roads in their own countries. After initial upgrades, it is also important that roads are kept up with yearly maintenance. Not only will this make transportation easier, but it will also save a significant amount of money. In fact, The World Bank’s World Development 1994 estimated that, “timely maintenance of $12 billion would have saved road reconstruction costs of $45 billion in Africa in the past decade,’’” (Easterly, 2001).

This plan will be implemented in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of conflict regions where the program would be minimally effective or exceedingly difficult to implement. The World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Group, and the African Union will form a special committee to implement this plan.  The World Bank Group, the African Development Group and the African Development Bank will help fund the maintenance of the road network in sub-Saharan Africa, while the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union will be responsible for making policies and regulations. The main focus of the plan is to upgrade and maintain roads across Africa by providing incentives for African governments to maintain existing infrastructure instead of waiting until roads are in a serious state of disrepair to finance road rehabilitation. One of the roads which should be prioritized most is the one from Cameroon through Congo to Tanzania, as shown in the map below.

Figure 3. Map of major roads in Africa. It shows how often each road is used and the quality of each road.

(Source: Retreived on Nov 29th, 2010 from

In order to improve roads which go through several countries, part of the plan will involve demonstrating that it is in the country’s best interest to keep up their road systems due to the significant increase in trade. The food-for-work program will also be implemented along with the plan in impoverished, rural areas which employ citizens to work on road projects, thereby increasing their access to market (see Food For Work program plan).

The cost to carry out this plan is immense. One estimate by the World Bank Development Research group was that massively improving infrastructure across Africa “at a level that is functional, but less highly-developed than existing roads in countries like South Africa and Botswana” would require about $20 billion for initial upgrading and $1 billion annually for maintenance (Deichmann, Buys & Wheeler, 2006).Each local and national government should take initiatives to support the plan financially because the construction of roads will make the market system and the flow of people better, which will the benefits for countries. Also, since World Bank has been funding projects of constructing roads in Africa, such as The Mombasa-Nairobi Road rehabilitation Project, they would most likely fund the plan (World Bank, 2005).

 This plan is a long-term solution, although it will be combined with the short-term food-for-work plan. It is estimated that the initial upgrading of main roads would take five to ten years, followed by a period of steadily increasing trade during which rural roads will also begin to be improved. Upkeep of roads will continue to be a priority throughout the hundred-year time span. The biggest challenges in implementing this plan are getting the construction materials to building sites and working with political systems to streamline time-consuming and often-corrupt checkpoints. Also, since roads cannot be built during rain seasons, which happen every year, time management of construction would be a hard issue to deal with.





2. Improving and constructing rural roads between farms and markets.

The low road access percentage (34%) reflects the lack of infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, only 25 percent of the people in rural areas have access to market within two hours (World Food Programme, 2009, p. 63). Despite this apparent issue, national programs and organization still tend to focus mainly on the construction of major roads, since small roads would have a smaller economic impact. The simplest way to address this issue is to employ local labors to construct roads connecting farms and markets. Local farmers who work on these road projects will receive food in return for their labor as part of the Food-for-work project. The reason of using local labors is that it will solve the problem of delivering equipments because due to the lack of infrastructure in many rural areas, it is almost impossible to move in large machines to these areas. According to the International Labor Organization, this is an effective approach because with the local people building the rural roads, the only required party in this plan is experts who plan the construction and teach people how to do it (Johannessen, 2008).

We will begin implementing the plan in bigger villages with local materials for the construction of roads because the delivery of the necessary materials will be a limiting factor in how fast roads can be built. Since this project will be unappealing to private organizations and governments in most cases, it will mainly be implemented through programs by WFP, UN and other international NGOs. Their task is to assign farmers to the days to build roads without putting physical, mental or social burden on them.

This plan requires a certain amount of time commitment in road building from each farmer because this is the most cost-effective way. Cost effectiveness is a very crucial part of this plan as not that many organizations or companies are willing to provide funds to construct rural roads that will not give them much in return.

Another problem exists in the rural areas of Africa is the lack of cheap transportation. For instance, even in places with roads, bus, matatu or taxi systems, people still have to walk a long distance to get access to those means since the systems are often not developed enough (Riverson & Carapetis, 1991). The solution for this issue is to provide farmers the “best” means of transportation (Riverson & Carapetis, 1991, p.16 Table 6), which is often a bicycle with a trailer. With this new transportation, farmers can carry more products. It is also cheaper than most other means, and does not require political or social infrastructure to implement (unlike vehicles or trains). The obvious limitation to this solution is that it can be only implemented in areas with appropriate roads.

Figure 1. Comparison of various kinds of transporation means

(Source: Riverson & Carapetis, 1991, p.16 Table 6. Retrieved from )

The cost of constructing rural roads in the whole Africa would be about 1.752 billion dollars according to our calculation using the data on the paper by Bjorn Johannessen. The cost of providing bicycles with trailers would include the cost of purchase, shipping and maintenance tools such as oil. However, at this point, it cannot be exactly calculated because it will only occure after the construction of roads. Since the objects of our plans and their goal are very similar, WFP would support the plans financially to implement them. Also, local governments will be required to contribute to the plans financially since they are the ones which will eventually get the biggest benefits in economic and social aspects. Also, our plan would require the support by WFP, UN, FAO and African Development Bank to construct rural roads to connect farms and markets.Their task will be to make sure that farmers’ contribution for building roads would not be so much that they have to suffer from hunger or poverty worse than now.

This plan will be implemented in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on East Africa due to the fact that although its population density is big, the density of railroads is small compared to other areas (Columbia University) (Buys, Deichmann & Wheeler, 2006, p. 10 Figure 2).

There are some problems which need to be discussed and considered about this plan. Because Africa has rainy seasons, time spent on the construction of roads needs to be considered. Also, some places which do not have materials necessary for the construction of roads need to be connected with other places with materials somehow. Another concern is the feasibility of food-for-work programs to build roads in such areas that females and children are the majority. Because building roads mainly require physical work, it would be important to figure out how women can also contribute to the program.

This is a short-term solution until each government starts to work on improving rural roads as their national projects after they have higher GDP than now. GDP can be raised by improving and constructing major roads between cities and countries, and other solutions which we have suggested.

Works cited: 

Deichmann, U., Buys, P., & Wheeler, D. World Bank, Development Research Group. (2006). Road network upgrading and overland trade expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa.

African Development Bank. (2010). Infrastructure - African Development Bank. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Easterly, W. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001.

World Bank. (2005). Implementation Completion Report (IDA-28120 PPFI-P8890) on a Credit in the Amount of SDR 34.0 Million to the Republic of Kenya for a Nairobi – Mombasa Road Rehabilitation Project. Document of the World Bank.

Buys, P., Deichmann, U., & Wheeler, D. (2006) Road Network Upgrading and Overland Trade Expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa. Development Research Group, World Bank. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Columbia University. A. 6. Population density map for years. CIESIN Columbia University. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Johannessen, B. (2008) Building Rural Roads. International Labor Organization. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Riverson, J. D. N., & Carapetis, S. (1991). Intermediate Means of Transport In Sub-Saharan Africa Its Potential for Improving Rural Travel and Transport (World Bank Technical Number 161 Africa Technical Department Series). Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

World Food Programme. (2009). World Hunger Series Hunger and Markets. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from,com_docman/task,doc_view/gid,1477/Itemid,98/