The Social Sciences

Year: 2011
Volume: 6
Issue: 1
Page No. 51 - 63

Transportation and its Concerns in Africa: A Review

Authors : Massuod Ali Ahmed Abuhamoud, Riza Atiq O.K. Rahmat and Amiruddin Ismail

Abstract: Urban transportation is not up to the demand of African population. The British colonial impact still persists in African countries and hence there is lack of accessibility of transport to all population and areas. Quality of vehicles is too low and less road safety. This study analyses the constraints of transportation in African cities. Specific land use strategies are to be implemented based on the typical geographical conditions of Africa. As a developing country, Africa needs to address a lot of concerns with respect to urban transportation and to be at par with other developing nations in the world.

How to cite this article:

Massuod Ali Ahmed Abuhamoud, Riza Atiq O.K. Rahmat and Amiruddin Ismail, 2011. Transportation and its Concerns in Africa: A Review. The Social Sciences, 6: 51-63.


Ample facilities like road infrastructure, appropriate vehicles for the right place and right time is a crucial factor in determining the quality of transport system. For a developing continent like Africa this has always been a great challenge and continues to be so. Owing to the civil wars, lack of proper investment in the transport infrastructure, low quality the transport system, unhealthy transport solutions, improper planning and increasing number of private cars etc., still remains a problem. Understanding the relationship between the basic needs for the transport systems, its capacities and new technologies serves to the development of transportation and traffic amenities (Hansen and Huang, 1997). Most of the cities are going through an urban development phase with no adequate transport system (Kumar and Barrett, 2008).

Urban development and transport facilities are intricately linked to each other. Cities started to expand creating increase in distance between activity location and people’s residence. Simultaneously, the personalization of automobiles and congested traffic further increased. Africa accounts for 14% of world’s population (approximately 1 billion) and ranks second in the world scenario. The urban population percentage of the year 2007 was 38.7% with estimated 2% annual rate of change between the years 2005-2010 (Population Divison, 2010).

The total number of vehicles is also increasing overall as observed for 5 years until 2007 by World bank report. Countries like Ethiopia, Niger, Kenya and Tanzania has <25% urban population. About >55% urban population can be seen in countries like Botswana, Libya and South Africa (Fig. 1). The African urbanization is very diverse feature. As seen from the Fig. 2, most of the countries in the sub-Saharan Africa have 2 types of urbanization percentage: 20-40 and 40-60%. An urbanization of 60-80% or >80% could be seen in North Africa. Urbanization pattern of Africa is very similar to Asia. At present, Africa has about 40% urban area (Fig. 3).

History of transportation in Africa: In the past, people used to walk or use animals for mobility. Transportation development came after European colonization to Africa. They came to Africa in the 1400s for the first time (George, 1958). There were well aligned and extensively networked roads during the 1600s.

These roads were also used to transport slaves in the trans-Atlantic slave era (Fage, 1969). Horse-drawn carts or ox-drawn carts were used to transport slaves (Muhammad, 2003). In the colonial era of Africa, there was a decline in interest in road construction due to the Europeans interest to develop rail transport for their raw material mobility.

They focused on rail transport due to the huge cost of investment needed in creating road facilities (Thomas, 1973). They invested in railways because it would return them highest profits of their investments. So the road transport was neglected during this period in the 1900s (Hailey, 1938). In 1934, the Kenya bus services was started and from 1966-1973, it had the monopoly on public transportation across Kenya. In the 1945, Putco bus services was set up in South Africa during and later in the 1950s, the French started a well-organized public transport with large buses called as bus Raymond.

Fig. 1: Urban population percentage from 2005-2008 in some of the African countries World Bank (2010e)

Fig. 2: Percentage of urbanization in African countries (McDonald et al., 2009)

Fig. 3: Percentage urban by major area (Department of Economics and Statistics and United Nation, 2007)

However, poor management of this company led to its bankruptcy in 1979 (Trans-Africa, 2008). There were only attempts to build those roads which were very important for their colonial administration (Herbst, 2000). The increase in traffic because of passenger and freight transportation led to expand the road networking in the 1960 and 1970s (Delgado and Mellor, 1984).

Table 1: Population and paved roads in different parts of Africa
(Trans-Africa, 2008)

Yet African countries paid less interest in maintaining and repairing the roads which in turn affected the vehicle maintaining costs. Between the periods of 1970 and 1980s, there was increase in buildings with no adequate parking facilities (Howe and Bryceson, 2000). Until the 1980s, low priority was given to road transport development. Anyhow, roads are the most important mode of transportation in Africa now (Heggie, 1995).

Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC) was established in 1977 to provide transport facilities in Seychelles. In the 1980s OTRACO (Trans-Africa, 2008), a public company by the Japan-Burundian bilateral cooperation established public transport throughout Burundi. A major development in road transport could be cited after the 1990s with more private vehicles and public transport development (Pedersen, 2001).

Current scenario: In the 21st century, the transport system varied from country to country in coverage and efficacy. The recent statistics of paved roads in percentage as shown in Table 1. The countries in Central Africa had much less progress in road development. The paved roads are <10% in central Africa whereas in South Africa most countries showed >30% of paved roads in the past decade; particularly Mauritius has shown consistent and prominent (100%) rank among all others (Preston, 1981).

Table 2: Paved roads (percentage of total roads) in different countries of Africa
(World Bank, 2010c)

Table 3: Some recent transport projects in Africa by World Bank (2010)
*Funding US$ millions World Bank (2010b)

An average of 8-13% paved roads could be seen in various parts of Eastern Africa and most countries of West Africa had these percentage values ranging from 15-25 (Table 2).

In West Africa, Niger had the maximum number of paved roads whereas in Eastern Africa, Ethiopia showed steady percentage of paved roads. However, throughout the continent, there are regions like Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Zambia, Cape Verde, etc. where no data are presented by the World Bank with regards to the paved roads.

This shows the variation as mentioned earlier in terms of coverage and efficacy. Geographical conditions like too many mountains, valleys, rivers, too large size etc., are considered to be a big problem in constructing good roads and transportation means especially in regions like Nigeria and Tanzania (Njoh, 2008). There are some ongoing projects for the development of transportation across Africa.

Table 4: Road infrastructure coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions
World Bank (2010a)

An overview of these recent transport projects undertaken by World Bank as shown in the Table 3. At present, the active projects are about 6 in number with an overall funding of >1309 million US$. These are thought to be completed in 3-4 years from now.

Status of roads and vehicles: As with other developing countries in Africa, countries also the number of public investors is limited due to the high cost of paved roads. The lack of proper land use and infrastructure development has made urban transport development to decline.

Fig. 4: Passenger cars availability (World Bank, 2010d)

The statistics of road facility of sub-Saharan Africa given by World Bank can be seen from the Table 4. As shown in the Table 4, the density of paved road per 1000 km2 in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is only 31 (about 23% of other developing countries) whereas the total road density in SSA is 137 km 1000 km2 (about 65% of other developing countries (UNECA, 2010) which means that there is not enough infrastructure for transportation. Almost all the roads are unpaved and are eroded in rain (Pinard et al., 1999).

This condition of the roads makes transportation cost increased. The geographical nature of Africa is yet another concern. The hills, valleys, loose soil, rainfall, etc., contributing to improper road networking especially in the interurban areas (Njoh, 2008). The existing roads are much older and are incompatible for average driving speeds. Road capacity is also another problem created by the huge increase in traffic. Traffic congestion, air pollution, safety and affordability should be addressed to make the situation better (Freeman, 2009). Most African cities are filled with pedestrians (Campbell and Campbell, 2007). In most regions of Africa; especially sub-Saharan Africa, the non-motorized transport like bicycle are in the path of ignorance.

The main focus remains to the motorized vehicles (Guitink et al., 1994; Howe and Bryceson, 2000). Buses are the most common means of transportation other than bicycles in cities of developing countries. In addition, taxis, auto-rickshaws also forms the major part of motorized transport system (Rahman et al., 2008). In some places, people use motorcycle but with low cubic capacity engines like 100 cc.

Accidents are very common with motorcycles users because the driving license is not compulsory (Kumar and Barrett, 2008). The large buses are being replaced with the so called mini and midi-buses and the increase in motorcycle use has made the traffic congested in African cities (Kumar and Barrett, 2008). Further, the rise of car users has made the roads much more clogged. Africa is a large importer of second hand vehicles (Porter, 2002; Van Schoor et al., 2001) especially from Europe (Trans-Africa, 2008; Porter, 2002). Insufficient and inadequate infrastructures creates lot of problem to the public transport operators. The old and second hand vehicles has low mobility and the passengers are forced to wait for long at the bus station (Trans-Africa, 2008). In Eritrea, the urban and interurban transportation is covered by approximately 2,000 public transport vehicles which are very old and not good on road.

Vehicles in use: Motorcycle taxis are unreliable yet popular mode of transportation (Howe and Bryceson, 2000) in various part of Africa. Most of the drivers have no license (Naddumba, 2008). They are popular possibly because that they can be used even in poor road conditions (Sohail et al., 2006). Motorcycles-taxis called Zemidjan provides 70% of all urban transportation in Benin (Boko, 2003). This mode of transportation flourished in Benin in the crisis time during the 1980s and at present >150,000 Zémidjan is present in Benin. In Togo also Zemidjan offers 80% of transportation needs (Assamoi and Liousse, 2010). Kabou-Kabou is the motorcycle-taxi available in Niger at regions with poor accessibility (Boko, 2003).

It is called Motos-taxis in Cameroon. In Chad, these are called as clando (Garber, 2004) and emerged in the absence of high capacity buses towards the end of 1990s. Recently after 2007, the cities of Democratic Republic of Congo also have this mode of transport. Motorcycle and bicycle taxis are also operating in the urban cities and outskirts of Burundi, respectively (Fig. 4). The Minister of Transport tried to ban this in the year 2006 but was forced to cancel it (Trans-Africa, 2008). Boda boda is a transport by bicycle-taxi available in Uganda and Kenya (Howe and Davis, 2002). Kenya also have Tuk Tuk that is motor-cycle scooter vehicles operating like taxis at limited charge (Oketch, 2000).

Fig. 5: Motor vehicle availability (World Bank, 2010e)

Taxi is another mode of transportation in Africa. In Cameroon, the taxis are yellow painted and are in 9,000-10,000 in number (Konings, 2006; Trans-Africa, 2008). All of which are imported from Europe and are second-hand (Trans-Africa, 2008). There are taxis in Chad despite the fact that there are no proper bus or taxi routes. Taxis are more common in Djibouti cities (Trans-Africa, 2008). Like other countries in Africa, there are unmetered taxis operating in Kenya (Wamwara-Mbugua and Cornwell, 2008). In Seychelles however, the taxis are metered and are negotiable (Gossling et al., 2002). Taxis are common means of transport to people of Burkina Faso (Manson and Knight, 2006). There is a well-organized and developed taxi network in Cape Verde, operating with meters (Fig. 5). Green tourist and yellow regular taxis (Bah and Goodwin, 2003) with good safety features like seat belts are operating in Gambia. The former one is expensive and the latter is cheap and is usually used by local people (Trans-Africa, 2008). In Bissau, the taxis are white and blue in colour and are not metered (Gacitua-Mario et al., 2007; Trans-Africa, 2008). Talladje-Talladje is the name of taxis in Niger (Bourgeois and Piozin, 1986). The country of Senegal has taxi facility but the only city that has metered taxi is Dakar (Godard, 2005).

MACON is the only company that is licensed and safety guaranteed cab operator in Angola. There are unlicensed taxis operating without meter in some parts of the town (Trans-Africa, 2008). Botswana also has taxis as main transport mode (Mupimpila, 2008). Taxis are one of the comfortable transport in Mauritius and are found everywhere in the city but again they do not use meters (Enoch, 2003; Trans-Africa, 2008). Taxis are present in South Africa and also taxi violence (Dugard, 2001). Other countries like Central African Republic, Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, Ghana, Conakry, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia also have taxis on the road transport (Trans-Africa, 2008). Buses are the major means of transportation and they may be conventional buses, minibuses or microbuses (Briggs and Yeboah, 2001). A new bus company called SOCATUR which is a private operator, started functioning in Cameroon since 2001 (Gwilliam, 2008). A limited national bus service company called as Onatracom provides transportation especially to the remote areas otherwise inaccessible by public transport in Rwanda (Cherif, 2004). Burkina Faso State has a private bus company called SOTRACO providing transportation (Kumar and Barrett, 2008). Buses are operated by GPTC (Gambia Public Transport Corporation) in Gambia (McGrath, 1990). Semi-low floor single and double-deck buses are operated by Metro Mass Transit (MMT) in Ghana and was set up in 2003 (Owusu-Ansah and O’Connor, 2006).

Transport Future and Société Guinéenne de Transport (Soguitrans) (recently started in 2008) provides urban transportation in Guinea (Trans-Africa, 2008). In Niger a private company, Societe des Transports urbains du Niger (SOTRUNI), started in 2007 has buses providing transportation (Kumar and Barrett, 2008). Dakar Dem Dikk (DDD) started functioning in 2002 with bus service in Senegal (Koenig, 2009). In Sierra Leone, city buses are run by Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) that was established in 1964.

Angola has both modern air-conditioned buses as well as very old buses on road (Trans-Africa, 2008). Namibia has a good road infrastructure and has large conventional buses (Jauch and Sakaria, 2009). Buses are accessible to the dislocated black community for work and trips. South African Bus Operators Association (SABOA) has almost 20,000 buses all throughout the country (Khosa, 1995; Trans-Africa, 2008).

Table 5: Vehicles in use in African countries
(Trans-Africa, 2008)

Fig. 6: Vehicles on road (World Bank, 2010f)

There are a number of bus operators functioning in South Africa. They are Putco bus services, the city of Johannesburg Metrobus service, Golden arrow bus service (the chief operator in the city of Cape Town), Great North Transport, Northwest Star, Botlhaba, Batswana Gare, Algoa bus service, Interstate Bus Line, Maluti Bus service, etc., (Govender, 1999; Theron, 2009; Trans-Africa, 2008). Congo, Gabon, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia are other countries with bus service including mini buses (Trans-Africa, 2008).

High capacity buses called as taxis-bus are used for long distance journeys and employees to go to work. People with low income and no poor road facility use motorcycles or bicycles (Bryceson et al., 2008). However in Ethiopia, the geographical nature limits the use of bicycle in the country (Trans-Africa, 2008).

But with Uganda both motorcycle and bicycle use has increased recently and is popular and is the lead cause of traffic accidents (Nakitto et al. 2008). There are a large number of populations using these 2 wheelers in Bukina Faso (Starkey, 2007). Burundi and Eritrea are 2 other countries that have 2 wheelers in use (Trans-Africa, 2008). Different vehicles and their percentage of use in different countries in Africa can be shown in Table 5 and Fig. 6.

Non-motorized transport in African cities: Non-motorized transport is a relief for issues like mobility, congestion, safety, environmental and economical aspects (Rahman et al., 2008). Countries of Africa where there are no roads or poor road conditions, this type of transportation is best suited. These non-motorized transports are often referred to as green mode of transportation (Forsyth and Southworth, 2008). Besides providing much safety and low pollution (Cherry and Cervero, 2007), this also improves traffic flow avoiding congestion and increase traffic speed (Rahman et al., 2009).

Non-motorized transport was promoted in the beginning of this decade by the Government of South Africa by starting a national bicycle transport partnership called shova lula to deliver assisted finance (Gwilliam, 2008). Basically cycle is used for recreation or as transport means for the poor who cannot afford or access other vehicles. Only alternative for poor people will be walking.

Bicycles are much reliable in African scenario as the comparative cost is much less than motorized transport (Cradock et al., 2009). It also provides physical exercise to the person traveling to the desired destination without the emission of harmful gases into the environment (Zahran et al., 2008). Institution of Transportation and Development Policy had set a program called Access Africa, through which they have provided 7,400 quality new bicycles low-income workers, students and health care staff in various part of Africa like Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania (Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, 2010).

Fig. 7: Road traffic accident deaths (WHO, 2004)

This was to make the condition of people much better who otherwise had limited access to jobs, schools and other health care services. These people tend spend much of their income and time on transportation by costly transportation and walking, respectively. However, interpreting car-ownership as status symbol and development of upper-income groups (Scheidegger, 2009), the African government has focused much on motorized transport rather than non-motorized transport (Mock et al., 1999). They consider bicycle to be unfashionable and stands as a symbol for poverty and remoteness (Heyen-Perschon and Europe, 2004).

Safety and security: Road traffic injury is big concern throughout the world and is estimated to be the prime cause for morbidity and mortality in a decade from now (Murray and Lopez, 1997). The World Health Organization defines road traffic injury as a fatal or non-fatal injury incurred as a result of a collision on a public road involving at least one moving vehicle. Road traffic injuries creates damage to humans as well as infrastructure (Persson and Odegaard, 1995). World Health Organization has proclaimed road safety to be an international public health concern (Freeman, 2009). Road traffic accidents are rated as second highest cause of injuries and these injuries are rated as third highest cause of mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Congestion and pollution are key contributors to poor road safety (Ahsan and Hoque, 2002). In an urban hospital of Nigeria, 57.8% of traumatic death was the result of road traffic accidents (Ekere et al., 2005). Public motor vehicle users and pedestrians were more prone to road traffic accidents in Kenya in a study by Macharia et al. (2009). In the same study, the researchers has recommended for national road safety concentrate on improving public transport safety to curb this situation. Often congestion of the roads and pollution endanger the safety of pedestrians and city residents (Jeon et al., 2006). The factors affecting road traffic accidents can be listed under three categories namely, human (McKenna, 1982), environmental (Shankar et al., 1995) and vehicular factors (Peden et al., 2004). Though most of the accidents are human factorial, others are also common. Lack of paved roads (Mock et al., 1995), incompatible users like pedestrians (Atkins et al., 1988), motor cycle users (Langley et al., 1994), bicycle users (Cameron et al., 1994), cars, buses, trucks, etc.

Nantulya and Reich (2002) adds up to the traffic accidents. The poor road conditions make vehicles vulnerable to accidents. Humans contribute to traffic risk by over speed, drinking, use of drugs, driving without license, etc. (Petridou and Moustaki, 2000). Other factors like lack of seat belts (Clarke et al., 2010), dangerous driving and vehicle environments (Stinchcombe and Gagnon, 2010), congested roads (Wang et al., 2009) etc., are poor transportation facilities that account to fatalities. Overloading is also prevalent in causing traffic accidents (Van Schoor et al., 2001). As mentioned before, the imported second-hand vehicles contribute to large number of older vehicles on road (Chen, 2010).

Current state of African economy fails to provide appropriate maintenance to these vehicles and most of the urban poor are incapable of using this economic service. More often, these vehicles are serviced with inferior quality of machinery and create troubles later on road (Van Schoor et al., 2001; Oginni, 2008). It is these vehicles that are used for informal transportation in Africa. Figure 7 gives an impression of traffic accidents. Public transport helps to overcome congestion and pollution in roads (Beirao and Cabral, 2007).

Table 6: Transportation statistics in Africa
(World Bank, 2010c)

Further, it also adds to road safety enhancement (Woodcock et al., 2007). However, the public transport infrastructure is weak in Africa. Some countries favor the public transport development but on the whole this is not the case (Porter, 2002). Owing to lack of confidence in investing to this sector, private investment is also much less (Sagalyn, 2007). Some special groups of people such as police, school children, etc., are exempted in payment for transportation. This makes the private investors to think again before they do. The rising cost of fuel also stagnate the public sector (Essama-Nssah et al., 2007; Arndt et al., 2008).

Table 7: Some recent projects by African Development Bank
(African Development Bank, 2010)

About 70% of the public transport vehicles are aged between 5 and 15 years suggesting that the public transport sector is in very miserable condition (Trans-Africa, 2008). The transportation statistics in relation to road infrastructure and vehicle ownership are given in Table 6. African transport system is not integrated and hence is inefficient. However, some transport development projects undertaken by African Development Bank is shown in Table 7.


Transport systems affects in a great deal the life and development of people and region. This affects their relationships between the countries within and abroad. Compared to other developed countries African countries has a worse urban transport development. Road transport is accompanied with traffic congestion, air pollution, high level of accident rate, waste of time, inaccessibility to vehicles by the poor, poor vehicle condition, high maintenance, travel and repair cost, etc.

Unless, there is an appropriate and united effort to resolve the present condition and promote the urban transport development Africa will continue the pathetic situation as a developing country. The key objective for such a strategy should be to provide high quality and reliable means of transportation accessible to all people by improving the urban transport facilities.


The interest in personalized transport should be transposed towards public transport system. A well planned and organized transport structure with public and non-motorized transport can certainly debilitate congestion as well as environmental problems. Policies and promotions should be made to encourage non-motorized transportation thereby making minimal traffic accidents and fatalities. Financial amendments should be made to facilitate a good road networking. A prudent support from private investment in transport sector can be integrated to government authorized policies in transport development. International trade and investments have brought remarkable development features in the global economy.

International investors should also be promoted and welcomed as countries like China and India are interested in investing in trade and investment (Broadman, 2007).

Upgrading the present status of roads in Africa would expand the trade at a great deal as well as provide construction and maintenance job in poorest parts of Africa (Buys et al., 2010). The policymakers thus should view this as an international rather than national context. On the whole, factors hindering urban transport development are many and have many dimensions. Similarly, the solutions will essentially have many dimensions to be worked out in number of stages and over many years.

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