Trans-African Highway network


Trans-African Highway network

The Trans-African Highway network comprises transcontinental road projects in Africa being developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Development Bank (ADB), and the African Union in conjunction with regional international communities. They aim to promote trade and alleviate poverty in Africa though highway infrastructure development and the management of road-based trade corridors. The total length of the nine highways in the network is 56,683 km.

In some documents the highways are referred to as 'Trans-African Corridors' or 'Road Corridors' rather than highways. The name Trans-African Highway and its variants are not in wide common usage outside of planning and development circles, and currently one does not see them signposted as such or labelled on maps, except in Kenya and Uganda where the Mombasa-Nairobi-Kampala-Fort Portal section (or the Kampala-Kigali feeder road) of Trans-African Highway 8 is sometimes referred to as the 'Trans-Africa Highway'.

Overall features of the network

Countries served

The network as planned reaches all the continental African nations except Eritrea, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni), Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland. Of these, Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland have paved highways connecting to the network, and the network reaches almost to the border of the others.

Missing links

More than half of the network has been paved, though maintenance is a problem on much of that. There are still numerous 'missing links' in the network where tracks are impassable after rain or hazardous due to rocks, sand and sandstorms. In a few cases, there has never been a road of any sort, such as the 200 km gap between Salo in the Central African Republic and Ouésso on highway 3. The missing links arise mainly because the section does not have a high national priority as opposed to a regional or transcontinental priority.

As a result of missing links, of the five major regions — North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa — road travel in all weathers is only relatively easy between East and Southern Africa, and that relies on a single paved road through south-western Tanzania.

While North Africa and West Africa will soon be linked across the Sahara when the last short missing links there are paved, the main deficiency of the network is that there are no paved highways across Central Africa. Not only does this prevent road trade between East and West Africa, or between West and Southern Africa, but it restricts trade within Central Africa. Although there may be paved links from West, East or Southern Africa to the fringes of Central Africa, those links do not penetrate very far into the region. The terrain, rainforest and climate of Central Africa, particularly in the catchments of the lower and middle Congo River and the Ubangui, Sangha and Sanaga Rivers, present formidable obstacles to highway engineers, and paved roads there have short life-spans. Further north in Cameroon and Chad, hilly terrain or plains prone to flooding having restricted the development of local paved road networks.

Through this forbidding environment three Trans-African Highways are planned to cross in the east- west direction (highways 6, 8 and 9) while one will cross north to south (highway 3). Currently all have substantial 'missing links' in Central Africa.

Background and need for Trans-African Highways

Africa has a relatively poor history of international cooperation in road-building. Colonial powers and later, competing superpowers and regional powers, generally did not encourage road links between their respective spheres except where absolutely necessary, and in newly independent African states, border restrictions were often tightened rather than relaxed as a way of protecting internal trade, as a weapon in border disputes, and to increase the opportunities for official corruption.

Poverty affects development of international highways when scarce financial resources have to be directed towards internal rather than external priorities.

The agencies developing the highway network are influenced by the idea that road infrastructure stimulates trade and so alleviates poverty, as well as benefitting health and education since they allow medical and educational services to be distributed to previously inaccessible areas.

Wars and conflicts

As well as preventing progress in road construction, wars and conflicts have led to the destruction of roads and river crossings, have prevented maintenance and have often closed vital links. Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola are all in rebuilding phases after war. Wars in the DR Congo set back road infrastructure in that country by decades and cut the principal route between East and West Africa. In recent years, security considerations have restricted road travel in the southern parts of Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt as well as in northern Chad and much of Sudan.

Trans-African highways can only develop in times of peace and stability, and in 2007 the future looks brighter, with the southern Sudan conflict being the only one currently affecting development of the network (highway 6). Lawlessness rather than war hampers progress in developing highway 3 between Libya and Chad, and though economic instability could affect maintenance of paved highways 4 and 9 though Zimbabwe, there are practical alternatives through neighbouring countries. Conflicts in Somalia do not affect the network as that is the largest African country with no Trans-African highways, but they will affect the development of feeder roads to the network.

Principles and processes

Using existing national highways as much as possible, the aim of the development agencies is to identify priorities in relation to trade, to plan the highways, and to seek finance for the construction of missing links and bridges, the paving of sections of earth and gravel roads, and the rehabilitation of deteriorated paved sections.

The need to reduce delays caused by highway checkpoints and border controls or to ease travel restrictions has also been identified, but so far solutions have not been forthcoming. Rather than just having international highways over which each country maintains its regulations and practices, there is a need for transnational highways over which regulations and practices are simplified, unified and implemented without causing delays to goods and travellers.

Lack of environmental aspects

The major omission in the planning and implementation of the network is the lack of consideration given to environmental aspects of highways. Whereas plans for major highway development in other parts of the world include detailed environmental impact statements and involve agencies responsible for such things as wildlife management, forest management, air and water quality, health, agricultural pest and disease control, the published reports of the ADB and UNECA and their consultants lack environmental impact statements or any input from such agencies. The role of highways in leading to forest and soil degradation, loss of wildlife habitat, increase in bushmeat trade, and the spread of human pathogens as well as agricultural diseases and pests such as tsetse fly is well-known but has not been addressed. This has allowed alignments to be proposed without comment through environmentally-sensitive and relatively untouched areas such as the forests of the upper Sangha River, when better alternative routes exist which would have lower impacts.

Description of the highways in the network

Nine highways have been designated, in a rough grid of six mainly east-west routes and three mainly north-south routes. A fourth north-south route is formed from the extremities of two east-west routes.

East-west routes

Starting with the most northerly, the east-west routes are:

*Trans-African Highway 1 (TAH 1), Cairo-Dakar Highway, 8636 km: a mainly coastal route along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, continuing down the Atlantic coast of North-West Africa, substantially complete. TAH 1 joins with TAH 7 to form an additional north-south route around the western extremity of the continent.

*Trans-African Highway 5 (TAH 5), Dakar-Ndjamena Highway, 4496 km, also known as the Trans-Sahelian Highway, linking West African countries of the Sahel, about 80% complete.

*Trans-African Highway 6 (TAH 6), Ndjamena-Djibouti Highway, 4219 km: contiguous with TAH 5, continuing through the eastern Sahelian region to Indian Ocean port of Djibouti. The approximate route of TAH 5 and TAH 6 was originally proposed in the early 20th century as an aim of the French Empire.

*Trans-African Highway 7 (TAH 7), Dakar-Lagos Highway, 4010 km: also known as the Trans-West African Coastal Road, about 80% complete. This highway joins with TAH 1 to form an additional north-south route around the western extremity of the continent.

*Trans-African Highway 8 (TAH 8), Lagos-Mombasa Highway, 6259 km: which is contiguous with TAH7 and forms with it a 10,269-km east-west crossing of the continent. The Lagos–Mombasa Highway's eastern half is complete through Kenya and Uganda, where locally it is known as the Trans-Africa Highway (the only place where the name is in common use),. Its western extremity in Nigeria, Cameroon and Central African Republic is mostly complete but a long missing link across DR Congo currently prevents any practical use through the middle section.

*Trans-African Highway 9 (TAH 9), Beira-Lobito Highway, 3523 km: substantially complete except in the eastern half but the western half through Angola and south-central DR Congo requires reconstruction.

North-south routes

Starting with the most westerly, these are:

*Trans-African Highway 2 (TAH 2), Algiers–Lagos Highway, 4504 km: also known as the Trans-Sahara Highway: substantially complete, only 200 km of desert track remains to be paved, but border and security controls restrict usage.

*Trans-African Highway 3 (TAH 3), Tripoli–Windhoek–(Cape Town) Highway, 10,808 km: this route has the most missing links and requires the most new construction, as only national paved roads in Libya, Cameroon, Angola, Namibia and South Africa can be used to any extent. South Africa was not originally included, as the highway was first planned in the Apartheid era, but it is now recognized that it would continue to Cape Town.

*Trans-African Highway (TAH 4), Cairo–Gaborone–(Pretoria/Cape Town) Highway, 10,228 km: the southern half of this route is complete but it requires construction in northern Sudan, north-western Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Crossing the Egypt-Sudan border by road has been prohibited for a number of years, a vehicle ferry on Lake Nasser is used instead. As with TAH 3, South Africa was not originally included as the idea was first proposed in the Apartheid era, but it is now recognized that it would continue to Pretoria and Cape Town. Except for passing through Ethiopia, the route roughly coincides with proposals for the Cape to Cairo Road in the early 20th century British Empire.

As noted above, TAH 1 and TAH 7 join to form an additional north-south route around the western extremity of the continent between Monrovia and Rabat.

Regional highway projects in Africa

Regional international communities are heavily involved in trans-African highway development and work in conjunction with the ADB and UNECA. For example:
*The Arab Maghreb Union drives the development and maintenance of the Tripoli to Nouakchott section of TAH 1.
*The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) drives the development of and maintenance of TAH 5 and 7.
*the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has an extensive network of road projects and trade corridors in southern Africa. TAH 9 and the southern ends of TAH 3 and 4 utilize regional highways developed by SADC or its forerunners. In particular SADC manages road and rail corridors from landlocked areas to ports.

References

* [http://www.afdb.org/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/ADB_ADMIN_PG/DOCUMENTS/NEPAD_INFORMATION/TAH_FINAL_VOL2.PDF African Development Bank/United Nations Economic Commission For Africa: "Review of the Implementation Status of the Trans African Highways and the Missing Links: Volume 2: Description of Corridors".] August 14, 2003. Retrieved 14 July 2007.
*"Michelin Motoring and Tourist Maps:" "Africa North and West" (1996), "Africa Central and South" (2000), "Africa North and Arabia" (1998). Michelin Travel Publications, Paris, .


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