Address by Jeff Radebe, Minister of Transport, SA at the International Transport Convention 2005, Limpopo Province
“The State of Transport in Africa”
16 May 2005
Africa is a vast continent. Its riches include the incredible expertise and skills of its peasant farmers and entrepreneurs; massive deposits of strategic minerals and resources; thousands of miles of rivers and coastline; a formidable biodiversity; and countless types of agriculture and industrial centres. But the sheer size of the continent has also presented challenges to human development, and particularly the development of adequate and appropriate transport infrastructure and systems.
Africa still accounts for the largest portion of the global population that is not urbanised. Our people are frequently dispersed widely, sometimes in distant settlements across the huge savannah and deserts, or in isolated, difficult to reach rainforest and jungle villages. Quite frequently, too, our people live in dispersed settlements, with homesteads dotted around the landscape, making transport planning a difficult job. Terrain often steps in the way to challenge the brightest engineers to overcome what appear to be insurmountable barriers.
This morning, time constrains me to attempt two things. I hope to provide a rather stark and simplified satellite picture of Africa’s transport infrastructure today, followed by very brief comments about what we as African Ministers of Transport are doing to promote transport regeneration, investment in improving our networks, and of meeting the challenge of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.
Africa’s transport infrastructure is diverse and spectacularly uneven in its spread. This will become clear, but we must also bear in mind that there is some overlap in the manner in which transport infrastucture is dispersed and the manner in which electricity, sanitation, education and health facilities, and even telecommunications, impact on the daily lives of people.
Much of Africa is not served by a sound all-weather road system. Many years of neglect and conflict in some countries have left the road system in a parlous state. This has been exacerbated across the continent where the bulk of heavy freight now moves on road instead of rail, further adding to the problem. An all-weather system of roads is a priority in our efforts to reduce the costs of basic foodstuffs and medical assistance to people in need. All-weather roads are concentrated heavily in South Africa and some SADC countries and a strip across North Africa.
A significant number of African countries rely on inland waterways and rivers for much of their people and cargo movements. The DRC is a case in point, but Sudan and Nigeria also depend a great deal on the mighty rivers that flow through their countries. We can note too that Chad and the Central African Republic have no rail networks at this stage at all, and rely on waterways instead. No less than 12 African states have commercial routes based on water that are longer than their rail networks.
The rail network carries less than 1% of global passenger and about 2% of global freight traffic. About 75 000 kilometres in length, in uneven states of maintenance, all but 6 countries in Africa have rail networks. Different rail gauges across the continent complicate the integration of rail systems across some borders, and even within some countries. This is particularly the case in West Africa. A large number of rail lines stick like fingers into the interior of countries from their ports, with little or no interconnection except with landlocked states of the interior. Coastal states frequently do not have transverse links between them as a result of colonial policies of the past.
Rail assets are also, unhappily, unevenly distributed. Sub-saharan Africa boasts about 83% of all Africa’s railways, and South Africa’s share of the African total is some 35%, or 42% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s system. South Africa accounts for about 47% of the total number of locomotives of all types in Sub-saharan Africa or 32 of the African total. However, South Africa’s dominance of electric locomotives is nearly complete, with about 96% of Sub-Saharan locos and 92% of the continent’s total number of electric locomotives. The African freight wagon fleet is small by international standards, and here too, South Africa’s dominance is notable, with about 62% of the total African fleet and 74% of the Sub-Saharan total. The amount of rail freight tonnes moved also occurs mostly in the South African system, with about 71% of the African total and some 91% of Sub-Saharan traffic.
In terms of ports and harbours, Africa has a long history of maritime trade, a longer history in fact than many parts of the developed world, especially across the Indian Ocean to the far east. Africa’s 90 or so ports handle about 6% of global traffic, but only 6 ports, 3 in Egypt and 3 in South Africa, handle over 50% of the whole continent’s container traffic.
In terms of aviation and air traffic, Africa has over 4000 airports of various sizes. But of these, just less than 20% have paved runways, and even less are suitable for modern, sizeable passenger aircraft. Ten countries, concentrated on the south and eastern side of the continent, but including Algeria and Libya, account for 63% of airports. Between them, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, DRC and Kenya in that order host just over 45% of Africa’s airports.
There are approximately 300 airlines registered as African operators transporting passengers, cargo, or combinations of both. Broken down into country registrations, an even more fascinating trail emerges: the DRC and South Africa account for 38 and 30 such airlines, Kenya and Nigeria for 29 and 28, and Angola (17), Zambia, Egypt, Sudan (13), Zimbabwe and Gabon (10), and with the Republic of Congo, Ghana, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Tanzania all operating between 5 and 9 airlines each. Just over 30 other countries operate at least one airline. But the vast majority of these are small, operating very small fleets, and these airlines operate approximately 1400 aircraft. Of these, however, some 40% are general aviation types, or aircraft with less than 30 seats.
When all is said and done, Africa boasts diverse transport systems, unevenly dispersed assets, and a completely mixed record of maintenance, efficiency and operational affordability. But, it is a simple fact of life that Africa is also home to excessive transport costs that inflate consumer prices of imported goods, restrain domestic production, and bounce any exports from these countries right out of the competitive international market. Generally, the total freight costs of African developing countries as a proportion of import value hovers around 13%, which is considerably higher than the average of about 9% for developing countries. This is more than double the world average. Northern Africa has the lowest freight cost average, followed by the island states of the Indian Ocean. East coast countries are also slightly below the continental average, but as we go west and south, the picture gets worse: western African freight cost averages are 13.9% and southern Africa, some 16.42%. The average cost for sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, stood at 13.84% in 2001, but the highest cost was for land-locked countries at 20.69%. Non-distance-related costs such as port tariffs and border post charges range between 12 and 40% of the total costs of inland transport.
I have not touched on the obvious impact poor infrastructure has on tourism, for if we exclude the small number of highly adventurous rough terrain men and women, poor facilities discourage tourism. Other modes of transport, too, such as the camel caravans of the Sahara region are pivotal to some economic activity but are inefficient as their own to be drivers of greater development. Coastal maritime traffic is far larger in West and Aast Africa, but pitifully small in southern Africa.
It is interesting to note, and this must be cause for concern for South Africans generally, that the transport costs of doing business in southern Africa are generally far higher than elsewhere in the continent, despite South Africa’s dominance of transport infrastructure.
What is to be done?
In April this year, the African Union Commission for Infrastructure and energy convened a meeting of African Ministers responsible for transport and transport infrastructure, specifically to look at the role that transport systems can and must play in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
The first thing to note, is that the programme of action that emerged from that meeting, which will be presented to the Heads of State in due course, integrates and builds on a number of transport development programmes that are being carried out by countries, regional and continental blocs, including NEPAD. We emphasised the importance of improving, upgrading and expanding transport infrastructure and services, but in particular “the eradication of physical and no-physical barriers along transport corridors, maritime ports and inland waterways” whilst also paying attention to “enhancing the access of rural and remote areas to markets, inputs and social services.” Critically, the continent is also committed to the principles of good governance in all its aspects, from procurement, through resource mobilisation and the effective management of activities, regulation, and provision of affordable services.
The meeting agreed to a range of targets that we can meet by 2015. These include the need to halve the proportion of people in rural areas who live beyond 2km from an all-season mode of transport; to cut in half the difference in transport costs within Africa as compared to Asia; to provide safe and reliable transport to learners and school kids in rural and urban areas; affordable access for all households everywhere to access to health and medical facilities; to ensure adequate access in times of natural disaster or emergencies. We need to halve the number of road accident fatalities; radically improve environmental sustainability, secure an end to the use of leaded petrol; to dismantle physical and no-physical transport barriers to shorten journey times, customs clearance and border delays; reduce by half the transport costs of landlocked and transit countries; to place axle load limits and harmonise technical standards across regions; actively promote gender as an integral component of all transport policies and programmes; and to ensure compliance with and adherence to all international conventions on safety, security and trade facilitation. All of these by 2015, with the exception of ensuring that the transport sector ceases to be an agent for spreading HIV/AIDS, which we believe should happen by 2010.
We are under no illusion as to the ambitious nature of the timeframes or indeed the amount of work that needs to be done. In fact, Ministers were unanimous that the current situation is so critical that unless we think big and fast, we will not even touch the tip of the iceberg. The context we are operating in is encouraging: across Africa at the moment, major programmes that aim to close the gaps and to promote connections between states are underway. Major port developments are evident all over; rail projects are well-advanced or taking shape in Kenya, Djibouti, the Great Lakes region, West Africa and South Africa; cross-continent corridors are taking shape, including southern, west and northern Africa; airport development projects include countries like Angola, Egypt, and across west Africa. At each and every gathering of transport professionals and government officials, we receive reports of new programmes and projects.
The work has begun, and already some of the benefits are being felt. But more needs to be done, and this is work that will proceed for the next decade and more. The impact will lay the foundation for Africa’s participation as a successful and growing actor in global commerce, the movement of people, and the investment of major resources into our own development. We can succeed; we shall succeed!
I thank you for the opportunity to share some of these thoughts with you.