Africa’s social and economic growth depends on transport: SSATP’s new phase is ready to deliver

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SSATP logoAs any development practitioner knows, a well-functioning transport sector is key to advance Africa’s development. But advancing towards safe, sustainable and integrated transport systems in Africa requires more than just  laying asphalt, tracks or building airports. For this reason, I have been a fan of the Africa Transport Policy Program’s (SSATP) for a long time, ever since my days as World Bank Vice President for Africa, and even more so now as Vice President for Infrastructure. For over 30 years, SSATP has been helping African countries build the underlying and enabling “invisible infrastructure” of transport policy reforms and capacity building .

The vitality and relevance of this mission are clear. Among its transformational accomplishments over the last few years, SSATP helped develop the Addis Ababa Road Safety Strategy, which stopped the growth of road deaths and severe injuries in 2017-2018 and aims to halve them by 2023—from the over 400 fatalities and almost 2000 serious injuries reported in 2015. Taking Road Safety to the continental level, SSATP contributed to the establishment of the Africa Road Safety Observatory, which will provide much-needed data and analysis to curb this growing problem, and serve as a platform for sharing good practices and advancing regional collaboration in road safety. SSATP introduced big data to improve corridor performance in Eastern and Southern Africa, strengthened the capacity of policymakers to maximize the economic benefits of port concessions, and increased Africa’s capacity in urban transport planning with actions such as the establishment of Abidjan’s Urban Mobility Authority.

Much progress has been made, but I believe that SSATP’s current priority areas—road safety, regional integration and urban mobility—remain extremely relevant to solving the continent’s transport challenges. I am glad that SSATP member countries agreed last November during the Annual General Meeting in Victoria Falls to renew the focus on these areas in the upcoming Fourth Development Plan. This will be an important foundation for making the African Continental Free Trade Area a reality through regional connectivity and economic integration. The new phase of SSATP will build sustainable urban mobility and accessibility with a focus on low-carbon modes to manage Africa’s increasingly congested urban areas; and mainstream road safety activities that use the “Safe System” approach, which focuses on upstream safety by design in road and transport systems.

Two extremely relevant new areas—resilient road asset management and the aviation sector—have now been incorporated into SSATP’s mandate, as they are pivotal for Africa to address the challenges of climate change and multimodal continental integration in context of the increased transport demands from burgeoning populations across Africa.

SSATP Annual General Meeting in Victoria, Falls, Zimbabwe
Participants at the SSATP Annual General Meeting in Victoria, Falls, Zimbabwe on November 26, 2019.

Practitioners and governments know that transport sustainability in Africa does not depend on the sector alone. The continent’s social, economic and environmental challenges are all very much affected by transport and play a role in shaping it. A holistic approach is needed if we are to fully leverage transport solutions in addressing broader development challenges . This has long been a part of SSATP’s value and on-the-ground effectiveness, but the Program will now incorporate these principles explicitly in its work. Concretely, this means adopting cross-cutting sector policies covering Africa’s human capital building challenges—such as through partnerships with universities and research agencies, empowering women and making sure Africa’s transport sector makes the most of technological innovations and big data.

All of these are urgent and extremely pertinent objectives, and SSATP has shown it is uniquely positioned to continue leading Africa towards sustainable mobility. I echo the words of host Joel Biggie Matiza, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, in Victoria Falls: “Now is the time for action. The Annual General Meeting is ending, but our work is just starting.”

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