Reconstruction of Roads and Bridges to boost market access

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The instability caused by lack of a central government in Somalia has resulted in neglect of the infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, which have all deteriorated over time. In addition to preventing progress in road construction, the civil war also led to the destruction of bridges.

The roads in Mogadishu are still mostly unpaved, with only certain streets — the ones where most of the businesses and government offices are located having tarmac on them.

As one moves out of such streets within Mogadishu, they are met by the stack reality of the kind of damage that strife can wreak on the transport system of a nation. The roads are in a bad shape due to lack of maintenance. The bridges are perilous, and dust and pot holes beset any road trip. It is not only bad roads that worry users in Somalia.

There are sections of the country that were once under the control of warlords and militia men. Such areas are still feared by the travellers. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why most people, especially the non-locals, are wary of using road as a means of getting from one place to another. All is not gloom though. Reconstruction of roads is on in different parts of the country and in the city of Mogadishu.

There is re- carpeting going on, building of new lanes and firming up of bridges that had grown wobbly. With Somalia’s already vibrant business sector, an expansion of key transport infrastructure can provide an alternative to air transport that is seen as expensive to most of the local traders. Most of the farmers in the interior parts of Somalia depend on road transport to get their produce to the markets, which are situated in urban centres.

This is perhaps the most important aspect of road transport in the country; that of encouraging internal mobility and trade. If this is properly done, labour, goods and services will be circulating within the country with ease. Also important is the fact that local tourism is better experienced through road transport, rather than by flying across the country.

The Brussels Conference of September, 16th, 2013, endorsed a new deal for Somalia. Peace and State building Goal (PSG) was one of the priority areas mentioned. The conference stressed the need to “enhance the productivity of high priority sectors and related value chains, including through the rehabilitation and expansion of critical infrastructure for transport, energy, and market access to facilitate trade”. The main problems to be addressed by the programme include the poor conditions of the road network.

The bad state of roads hamper economic development and poverty reduction efforts, including humanitarian interventions. It is argued that improvement of roads would further lead to increased public and individual transport systems, hence, attract interested international actors keen on opening up the Somalia market. Transport infrastructure can also greatly contribute towards state-building by providing a very visible and positive link between the state and the vision of a common good for the benefit of the Somali people.

Somalia is often beset with food insecurity and problems associated with reduced access to vulnerable groups. Improving rural agriculture to market access; expanding port capacity; rehabilitating key access roads and minor airstrips, are some of the benefits of an improved road transport network. This is before one looks at the access to basic human social amenities and services such as education, health and water supply.

The opportunities missed when the roads are in poor condition deny the larger Somali population a chance to contribute toward greater food security, human security and development of the Somali population. A number of large scale transport infrastructure opportunities have been identified, such as roads leading to and from Mogadishu port. This would serve well the business people within the city in terms of their transport needs, especially those engaged in bulky shipping.

The state of the road network in Somalia has remained more or less the same since these statistics were issued in 2010. Apart from a few new road construction projects or re-construction jobs, the situation has remained almost within the same range. Long term plans for a major trunk road that links Kismayo in the south, through Mogadishu to Bossaso, Berbera, and Hargeisa in the north, could begin to be conceived as it would better integrate Somalia trade into the broader Horn of Africa region.

Other players have jumped in to see to it that the road network in Somalia has gone from what it is today, to a proper road network. In order to boost trade and economic development in the Horn of Africa, the EU has decided to finance a feasibility study and a detailed design with a view on rehabilitating the Berbera Corridor, one of the key trade routes in the region. With the cooperation of IGAD, the EU is ready to invest in this project that could open up the Horn region and enhance regional trade.

EU is already engaged in facilitating mobilisation of community resources supplemented by funds from the Diaspora to repair and improve the Boroma – Kalabaydh – Hargeisa road, which is part of the route from Ethiopia to the port of Berbera in Somaliland. It is also financing the updating of the feasibility study and preparation of the detailed design, engineering and bid documents for the entire road corridor from the border with Ethiopia to the port of Berbera (about 275 km) which will not only boost trade in the region but also reduce Ethiopia’s dependence on Djibouti for its imports and exports.

As with all grand projects that come after conflict, the funding for the construction of this road intended source is uncertain and not expected to be sufficient for the entire road. This provides an opportunity for leveraging limited resources with private sector financing under a PPP arrangement, provided the requisite institutional arrangements along with the enabling policy and regulatory framework are put in place.

The implementation of transport infrastructure initiatives in Somalia could have a phenomenally positive impact with respect to security and stability. Transport infrastructure, by virtue of its significant scope and investment, if done in the right way, can have a catalytic role, transforming nascent economic development to something magnificent.

Through responsible investment to significant and employment creation, it can lead to the sparking off of trade and economic development by making areas within Somalia and across the Horn of African more accessible, will encourage and open up communication channels beyond political, geographic or clan divisions. Transport infrastructure, by facilitating physical links, destroyed by war, can facilitate social and political links and enhance regional co-operation and integration. This is fundamental, not only for Somalia, but for the region as a whole.

It can play an important role in fostering reconciliation, mitigating conflict and deepening peace. In all, the expansion and improvement of transport infrastructure will improve access to markets and contribute towards enabling the environment for the private sector to thrive, which will in turn create employment and business opportunities. All these are welcome.