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Got a road? The importance of a good road network

Jacques Morisset's picture

Let's think together:Every week the World Bank team in Tanzania wants to stimulate an evidence-based debate by sharing data from recent official surveys and ask you a few questions. These posts are also published in the Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen every Sunday.

Reducing the distance between people, markets, services and knowledge – or simply ‘getting people connected’ – is a great part of what economic growth is all about.

Although virtual connectivity has become increasingly important today with the emergence of new communication avenues, a good and reliable transport network remains vital. There is a very strong positive correlation between a country's economic development and the quality of its road network. Yet, by 2011, Tanzania was still lagging behind Uganda and Kenya in terms of the development of its road network as seen in the following facts:

  • The road network in Tanzania is three times less dense, as given by the number of kilometers of road per 1,000 sq km - of land mass, than in Uganda and Kenya.
  • There are 7.5 km of paved road per 1,000 sq km of land mass in Tanzania, while this ratio is 82 and 19.7 for Uganda and Kenya respectively.
  • Only 5.8 per cent of the national roads network is considered in good and reliable condition in Tanzania as opposed to 20.7 and 11.0 per cent in Uganda and Kenya respectively.

Not only is the road coverage in Tanzania insufficient, but where they do exist they are either in poor condition or are totally impassable especially during the rainy season. As a result, households, especially those in remote areas, experience difficulties transporting their goods, travelling from one point to another within the country or even catching up on new developments.

This lack of mobility is illustrated by the fact that only one household out of five was within 2 kilometers of or had access to a paved road in the Kilimanjaro region as recently as 2009. And in the poorer Ruvuma region, access to a paved road was as low as 5.6 percent.

The Government has nevertheless made significant efforts to improve the road situation as seen in the increased amounts allocated to the sector over the past few years. The total budget for roads increased from Sh491 billion in 2007/8 to over Sh2.1 trillion in 2011/12. This latest figure is equivalent to the amount spent on Education and twice as much as the Health budget.

  • Should the Government spend more on roads - even at the expense of the Education and Health sectors?
  • What kind of roads should the country prioritize – paved or feeder roads?
  • Should Tanzania invest in rural or urban transport? In which priority regions?
  • In view of the massive financing needs, should alternative funding mechanisms be considered, for example, private sector partnerships for large roads or international corridors; or community driven initiatives for feeder roads? Should users pay for roads?
  • To what extent can other transport modes such as water or rail be alternatives to road transport?

Note: The statistics are extracted from the Kilimanjaro and Ruvuma Panel Surveys (2003 and 2009) and the CIA Factbook. Both are publicly available.


in the era of big data, one might think that more information might help. Population, current traffic per road, arteries in good shape vs. secondary roads, lifespan of economic staples, size of country... And BTW & to frankly quibble: inasmuch as I understand Internet protocols - who expects "http://" prior to your URL? In 2012?

Submitted by El on
Roads are really important despite the fact that Education plays a major role in the country's economy. To construct the road, it means cutting off education and health cost. In reality, 'We'-Africans can't afford to lose either education or health in order to get better roads. So, my suggestion is that, as much as the roads need to be constructed, why don't we put some money in to constructing the roads, while also considering improving the education and health system. Education>=Health>Road. Tanzania should focus on rural transport. The Urban transport just needs maintenance while some rural side don't even have any kind of transportation means.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I don't see the issues of health and roads as mutually exclusive. In fact, there are many studies linking the benefits of good transportation systems and health. True, most of these are centered around urban, developed countries and the effect of alternative transportation, but there is still research out there about this sort of situation. What good is a modern health system without access? I'm not saying roads are more important, just that maybe we need to consider that the focus should be on more than just education and health independently. Instead we need to focus on a system that works together. Where roads are just as important for connecting the system as education is as a benefit of the system.

Submitted by Rakesh Rajani on
Sure there are trade offs, but the real question may be less about more roads or more education, and instead how to get better value for money with both. We know from the Uwezo findings that, despite massive investments in education, children are not learning ( I don't have the data for roads, but my private sector buddies ply me with lots of anecdotes of problems with roads quality and procurement. So shouldn't we be talking about the evidence for getting the bigger bang for the buck? One important quibble on data on roads used in this blog: how reliable? They seem to differ considerably with the ADB data used by the latest State of East Africa report (

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