African Economic Outlook 2016 released

The “African Economic Outlook” is published every year by the African Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Development Programme and analyses the economic and social development in African countries. This year, the subject “Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation” was in the focus of the 15th edition.

The report presents an anecdotic overview of relevant developments in the transport sector in Africa - basically based on secondary data - and gives recommendations for policy actions. With regard to the existing challenges of the rapid urbanization, urban planning is regarded as an important component to enable sustainable transformation in cities. This can among other things be achieved by the development of public mass transport systems, which are also an effective way of reducing air pollution substantially. The annual mean concentration of particulate matter smaller than ten microns in diameter (PM10) in 2014 exceeded the global average in many African cities, especially in Dakar and Cairo (see figure 1). Even if environmental policies exist and emission standards have been implemented in many African countries, only a few have effective monitoring systems in place to measure the air quality (8 out of 27 investigated).

Infrastructure improvement

Even if a lot of money has been invested in order to improve the infrastructure (especially by Chinese investors), it is not yet sufficient enough in several African countries. In Gambia for example, the road network is in a poor state and the high costs for taxis force commuters to walk to work. But a study by Ernst and Young and the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA) showed that the improvement of infrastructure does not depend on unlocking new financing resources but rather on ensuring that planned projects are completed within a reasonable timeframe.

But according to polls, better roads and transport are one of the key concerns in daily life for many people in the urban areas of the African continent. In the „MyWorld 2015 survey” by the UN, this issue was ranked on 8th place after basic needs like better education, health, jobs and nutrition. In terms of satisfaction with the existing public transport, it differs from country to country. Overall, 15.2% are dissatisfied with public transport; whereas the rate is about 62% in the Central African Republic and about 58% in Mauritius (Gallup World Polls 2013 und 2014).  

Impacts of public transport prices

The dissatisfaction with public transport can be explained by excessive prices. In South Africa for example, low-income-households have to spend 20% on transport modes and are therefore more likely to walk. In cities like Dakar or Dar es Salaam, the share of individual and motorized transport is only about 1% and 7%, respectively. Furthermore, mini busses are used more commonly than large, official busses, e.g. in Accra (52% vs. 10%), as their prices are much cheaper in most cases.

But low prices in public transport are critical for most of the urban working population, as is shown by an experiment in Addis Ababa: When prices are reduced by a certain extent, people’s intensity of searching a job could be increased and their participation in temporary or informal work could be decreased. Other positive impacts of an improved transport infrastructure are an enhanced regional interlinkages and an increased efficiency of doing business. In other regions of the world, experiences show that it is just as important to reduce the uncertainty of transport time as reducing the transport time itself.

Sample projects

In several cities, projects to enable efficient and affordable public transport have already been implemented. In the following table, some of the latest projects are listed together with their respective stakeholders, costs and capacity indicators.



Finally, political decision makers are said to play a key role in terms of a sustainable, structural transformation. In the transport sector, three specific measures are suggested to enable a sustainable urban planning without going into further details:

  • Expansion of and/or improvements to public transport
  • Physical improvements to encourage walking and cycling
  • Fees for personal vehicle travel (e.g. congestion charges)

The full report can be downloaded here.

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