Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Got a road? The importance of a good road network

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ImageLet'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.


Jacques Morisset

Lead Economist and Program Leader, World Bank

Jacques Morisset

Lead Economist and Program Leader, World Bank

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