Road infrastructure and rural development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Road infrastructure and rural development in Sub-Saharan Africa


National Graduate Institute For Policy Studies

Yuki Tanaka

Expansion of road network is important for economic development as it enables farmers to be connected to input and output markets outside their local trading centres and markets. Development of roads in Sub-Saharan Africa has been significant over the past decade.

On the national level, the East Africa region, for example, is fast developing the trans-national road networks. According to a study carried out by African Development Bank (AfDB) in 2013, the key transportation corridors in the East Africa region totals around 2,900km connecting all five countries in the East African Community (Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda). These are valuable corridors that enable agricultural goods to be transported to major cities within a country and across the borders.

However, while the road quality in East Africa region is relatively good compared to other regions in SSA, the trade density is low at US$5.7 million per kilometer (compared with US$8.2 million in the Western region or US$27.9 million in the Southern region) according to AfDB (2013). The authors of the study attribute the low level of trade to long processes of customs clearances and administrative works at ports and borders. Yet, it may also be due to the relatively low quality of sections of the key corridors or other national roads that connect to them.

On a more micro-level, empirical studies exist which establish the impact of infrastructural development on economic growth. For example, Donaldson (2014) finds positive impact of the construction of railways in India on the price decrease and the trade volume increase of salt. However, such studies are limited in the sector of road construction, especially in SSA, due to limited data availability. One of the few such studies is from Kenya which combined a unique road quality data and panel household survey data collected between 2004 and 2012 (Kiprono, 2014). The author finds that maize yield and market participation for milk increased in areas experiencing better road access, and so did farm income. This is a valuable finding considering micro evidence is rare.

I am attempting to find further evidence in the neighboring country, Uganda. In Uganda, road has been an important part of development effort, especially so in the last few decades. Uganda National Road Agency (UNRA) started operation in 2008 to accelerate the expansion of national road network. It was allocated 15% of the total national budget in FY 2013/14. The Uganda government also clearly states how roads are important for its economy and that priority is given to “roads in agricultural areas, the export routes and the accesses to the sea through the southern and northern corridors” (UNRA, 2012). Furthermore, the maintenance of rural roads by the local governments have also been put in the fore for it is crucial for rural community who mainly foot their ways to local markets and services including schools, health centers and extension services.

Our data in Uganda consist of road quality data assembled from road construction information in UNRA reports, and panel household survey data collected between 2005 and 2012. Our goal is to establish whether the construction and rehabilitation of approximately 1,500 km of national road during the period translated into the improvement of welfare of the rural households. So far, our descriptive results show that while both road and welfare improved in general, the road improvement was most apparent in the western area, whereas the welfare improvement is not necessarily largest in the western region. If the association is found between infrastructural development and welfare improvement, then, the mechanism through which rural welfare improved is still to be estimated. We also need to estimate the factors determining the allocation and implementation of road works. When all these components are put together, this study may shed a new insight into how the national road initiative translates into rural development in an SSA context.

East African Community’s priority areas in infrastructural development to year 2020 include rehabilitation of major transportation corridors in addition to expanding rail networks and ports operations. Continuous efforts should also be given to following-up the assessment of such development efforts.

African Development Bank (2013). “State of Infrastructure in East Africa.”
Donaldson, D. (2014) “Railroads of the Raj: Estimating the Impact of Transportation Infrastructure”. American Economic Review, forthcoming.
Kiprono, P. (2014). “Roads and Rural Development: Evidence from a Longitudinal Household Survey in Kenya”. Ph.D. Dissertation. GRIPS.
Uganda National Road Agency (2012). Roads Magazine. Issue 15 – June 2012.