Relative peace and stability in Southern Africa, with some exceptions, has greatly aided progress in road infrastructure development, boosting the region’s prospects for social and economic transformation.
Given that road transport is the most dominant mode of transport for the movement of goods, services and passengers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), it is crucial that continuous expansion of the region’s land transport infrastructure is not only accelerated at scale, but also pursued in an optimally coordinated and collaborative way.
Encouragingly, there have been increased efforts from Southern African governments, development agencies and financing institutions to prioritise investment into road networks to improve cross-border road connectivity.
Regional road infrastructure policy has chiefly been driven by the SADC bloc, comprising 16 member states: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Land transport the dominant link between the region and global markets
Six of SADC’s primary transit markets are landlocked, making land transport the dominant link between the region and other continental
and global markets. Southern Africa’s main road transport routes are therefore focused on three primary road-based corridors – the North-South Corridor, which links the port of Durban in South Africa to Zimbabwe, Zambia and the DRC; the Maputo Development Corridor, connecting Mozambique to South Africa’s Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces; and the Dar-es-Salaam Corridor in Tanzania, running into Malawi and Zambia.
It is worth noting, however, that the region has 932 207km of road network, of which only 13.6% are paved, indicating the progress required to meet road infrastructure deficits present in the region.
As a first major step to addressing infrastructure-related barriers for the region’s development, in 1996 the SADC region passed its Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology. One of its aims is for regional collaboration on a harmonised road policy to develop road infrastructure.
ASANRA enhances policy coordination and integration of road transport systems
Based on the Protocol, the Association of Southern African National Roads Agencies (ASANRA) was established in March 2001 and tasked with promoting the development and maintenance of a regional integrated transport system. With its full members comprising the national road agencies of the SADC member states, ASANRA broadly aims to enhance policy coordination and integration of road transport systems among member states. The bloc has also adopted plans and strategies to guide road infrastructure development into the next decade.
One of these is the Regional Infrastructure Development Masterplan, which was first adopted in 2012, in recognition of the deficit of infrastructure necessary for surface transport across SADC. The masterplan acknowledged that policy formulation and implementation was crucial for the sector to develop. It also recognised the need for the rehabilitation of trunk roads owing to overloading and inadequate maintenance, as well as the implementation of harmonised regulatory standards such as load limits across the region to preserve road assets.
The Transport Masterplan outlines 72 road projects comprising new builds, upgrades or maintenance projects. These include the Dar es Salaam-Chalinze toll road, the Kazungula Bridge, the Beitbridge-Chirundu road upgrade, and the implementation of an intra-regional road asset management system – all of which the bloc aims to have completed by 2027.
The region is also featured in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s (UNECA) development of the Trans-African Highway, a continental road network set to have a total length of 59 100km. Through this project UNECA envisions a transcontinental network linking African countries, although it must be noted the progress for completion of this network has been slower than anticipated. UNECA launched the concept in 1971 and is developing the network together with several partners, including the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union.
Road infrastructure development has notable political will for collaboration
By and large, Southern Africa’s road infrastructure development sector has witnessed notable political will for collaboration between countries and the development of innovative financing models to support the creation of efficient trade corridors.
More recently, a key boost for transportation on the North-South corridor has come online with the Kazungula Bridge. The 923 metre-long tolled bridge crossing the Zambezi river between Zambia and Botswana was commissioned to better connect
nations including South Africa, Zambia and DRC.
Constructed at a cost of around $259.3 million, and opened in 2021, the bridge is jointly owned by the Botswana and Zambian governments and is funded by toll fees. The Kazungula Bridge has lessened pressure on the Beitbridge border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe, helping to cut transit times, driving efficiency in border processes and promoting intra-regional trade.
It must be noted, however, that despite the progress made in building road networks, road maintenance costs remain a concern for the region. The SADC bloc has noted that many governments often face competing priorities which make
funds available for road maintenance scarce or limited. SADC countries must therefore keep road maintenance a priority at the top of their agenda, consistently.
A stronger focus needed on building climate resilience for surface infrastructure
The region must also gear up for a stronger focus on building climate resilience for surface infrastructure. In recent years, Southern Africa’s road infrastructure has been particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate insecurity, mainly in the form of extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall, flooding and in cases such as Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar, cyclone damage.
This is driving countries’ efforts to climate-proof their road infrastructure to minimise damage. For example, Zambia began to implement the country’s first resilient road system in 2018. Climate-related damage to the Zambian roads stands at around ZMW295 million, set to rise to ZMW303 million by 2023. In 2015, SADC adopted the SADC Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, committing to adapt public infrastructure including roads to climate change. However, it will be integral for the roll-out of a harmonised strategy to ensure road quality standards can be relatively uniform across the region.
Southern Africa still has a way to go to build on gains made towards intraregional growth
Looking ahead, Southern African governments still have a way to go to build on the gains made towards intra-regional growth. Largely, this will hinge on factors including greater harmonisation and implementation of regional policies and strategies at the national level, increased collaboration across the road construction value chain as well as improved funding mechanisms, both for new builds as well as maintenance of existing infrastructure.
The benefits for SADC members countries, South Africa included, for adopting a harmonised and integrated road transport strategy are immense and will support their countries’ own national goals and objectives.
Tiago Massingue is a civil and structural engineer and a senior project manager with SANRAL, specialising in areas of project management, bridge and roads designs, concession contracts, procurement processes in road project, and roads project finance across Africa.