Traffic congestion, a by-product of economic boom in Africa

Mar 20, 2015

Megacities across Africa have suffered from the perennial problem of traffic congestion, a by- product of the remarkable economic boom over the past decade.

Africa has outperformed many economies in the world in past decade with an average growth of near 5 percent. Despite headwinds, growth is projected to stand at 5.1 percent by 2017, lifted by infrastructure investment, increased agriculture production, and buoyant services.

However, the economic boom has led to surging population in mega cities across the continent. The rate of construction of new roads can't keep up with the new vehicles entering the road daily, hence the problem of traffic congestion.

The problem, having cost greatly the affected cities, needs to be addressed through upgrading city planning and increasing investment in infrastructure, experts said.

In Kenya's capital city of Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa, a majority of commuters get caught in traffic jam daily. Kiprono Kittony, chairman of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry said in an interview with Xinhua that the routine traffic jam in Nairobi can be attributed to the failure to establish an efficient and modern transport infrastructure as the city saw population surge in past years during the economic boom.

He added the rising middle class incomes have worsened the challenge as more Kenyans buy cars yet the road network is not expanding fast.

A report by Kenya's Transport and Urban De-congestion committee in 2014 said Nairobi's population has increased from 350,000 in 1963 to 3.3 million nowadays with an estimated 300,000 vehicles without a corresponding increase of the road network.

The report said traffic congestion in Nairobi costs the economy an estimated 37 billion Kenyan shillings (406 million U.S. dollars) annually.Without measures to improve the traffic situation, these losses are likely to increase drastically as the population increases to nearly double the current numbers by 2025.

Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria with a population of more than 21 million, is becoming notorious for its terrible traffic jam, mostly because of limited access to the island financial hub and surging number of cars spurred by fuel subsidies. Report said in 2010 the number of cars had expanded to about 230,000 in Lagos. Snail-paced traffic test commuters' endurance as millions of people cram the streets of Nigeria's economic hub on a daily basis.

Same story happens daily in other mega cities in Africa like Johannesburg of South Africa, Luanda of Angola, etc., which have seen surging population during the past decade's remarkable economic growth and delay in proper infrastructure construction.

Kittony said solution to traffic nightmare in megacities lies in commuter train and high capacity buses in various routes.

"We need to create special zones for offices, industries and bus parks to ease congestion in the city center. Authorities should invest in new technology to enhance traffic management in the city," he said.

World Bank senior transport specialist Justin Runji advised African countries to invest more in the transport sector which plays an important role in ending the extreme poverty on the continent during a recent review of the road sector in Zambia, Kenya and Burundi.

African countries have also come to realize the importance and urgency of traffic de-congestion in big cities with measures and plans in place. Official testing of the Addis Ababa light railway in Ethiopia was launched in February. The China-funded project has been regarded as contribution to the transportation in Addis Ababa as well as maintaining the goal of building carbon emission-free transport system.

To decongest the Nairobi city, Kenyan government has announced the measures which cover the immediate, short, medium and long term include re-designing the city's mass transport system afresh and an expansive road building and improvement project within Nairobi and its environs.

Also prioritized for immediate action is the conversion of roundabouts into signalized junctions, with the city's main arterial roads that feed into the major highway.


Credit: Xinhua

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