BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
THE process of economic transformation in sub-Saharan Africa has far-reaching implications for the road sector.
Against a backdrop of a limited resource base and high cost of providing new road infrastructure, African road fund managers are leaning towards maintenance to save the road asset.
Viewed against the vastness of the continent, the road network of sub-Saharan Africa is sparse.
And viewed against the sub-continentâ€™s population and income, the ability to pay for road maintenance looks remote even as roads account for more than 80 percent of total movement of goods and services.
The transport needs are also growing rapidly.
Underpinned by the above underlining factors, the concept of an intra-regional trunk network – the Trans-African Highway – has existed for some time now, but owing to missing links and poor maintenance, its potential to connect the continent remains unrealised.
Faced with such an enormous challenge, the continent has created the African Road Maintenance Funds Association (ARMFA), a legal, non-political, non-profit-making organisation.
ARMFAâ€™s objective is to develop a network for the exchange of experiences and information on the best practices in financing road maintenance in Africa among the 34 member countries.
ARMFA, which is currently headed by Zambia through director-cum-chief executive officer of the National Road Fund Agency Anthony Mwanaumo, has a decentralised governance structure.
It is divided into four focal groups drawn from central Africa, east Africa, southern Africa and west Africa, each of which meet regularly to share regional experiences, successes and challenges in the fiduciary management of road sector finances.
ARMFA focal group deliberations feed into ARMFA executive committee meetings and, ultimately, the continental bodyâ€™s annual general assemblies.
It is evident from the knowledge and experiences shared at ARMFA regional and continental platforms that road sector reforms in Africa, and in particular the establishment of road funds to spearhead road maintenance financing have yielded positive and visible results.
This was especially acknowledged by Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, Ghanaâ€™s Minister of Roads and Highways, when he officiated at the second quarter 2015 ARMFA executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana, recently.
â€œA few years back in the late 1980s, the level of our road infrastructure deterioration led to the establishment of the various road funds to ensure secured funding for road maintenance where the idea of road commercialisation was the underlying factor,â€ he said in a speech read for him by Romeo Adu-Tutu, chief director at his ministry.
â€œThe knowledge you share among yourselves should serve as a catalyst for innovation and creativity. You need to craft out implementable solutions to address our infrastructure deficits so that citizens drive from one country to the other without any hindrance.â€
The minister appreciated initiatives at broadening the revenue base for the road sector and advised that for effective utilisation of the meagre resources, transparency and accountability, tolling should never be separated from the road fund.
And Thomas Nyarko, the chief executive officer of Asuogyaman district, Ghana, which hosted the ARMFA executive committee meeting, urged delegates to ensure whatever decisions they arrived at would be beneficial to the people of the continent.
In his welcoming address, Dr Mwanaumo said Africaâ€™s infrastructural development has not kept pace with its developmental aspirations and that the impact of this underdevelopment has been felt throughout the continent.
â€œWe need to collectively unlock the immense economic potential that this continent possesses, drawing from the inspiration of the Libreville Charter upon which ARMFA was founded, and exert our efforts on the promotion of the sound management of road maintenance funds,â€ he said.
Dr Mwanaumo informed the ARMFA executive committee that the key message coming out of the southern African focal group, which had met a week earlier in Windhoek, Namibia, was for African road fund managers to use what they have in abundance to get what they need, which is good road infrastructure and key to this is â€œimplementation, implementation, and implementationâ€.
Through the southern African focal group,Â a home-brewed solution to broadening the revenue base for road maintenance has been demonstrated by the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration, which graduated from basic tolling shelters to a more advanced and computerised tolling system, the first in Africa to be powered entirely by solar system.
Namibia Road Fund Administration board chairperson Penda Ithindi commended the southern African focal group efforts at peer learning and called for regional road funds to share knowledge on how to narrow the widening funding gap for road infrastructure and road transport services.
The ARMFA executive committee adopted â€˜Using what we have to get what we needâ€™ as the continental bodyâ€™s theme for the 14th annual general assembly billed for October and November in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Because of the critical role a good and well-maintained road network plays in national development, it is only right that African countries are prioritising road funding.
Africa links road funding to development
BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka