Developing Sustainable Transport Systems

Published on 15th September 2009

Transport in one of Africa's rural areas Photo courtesy
The EAC is on the verge of reaching the threshold of its Customs Union when, from 1st January 2010, all intra-regional movement of goods will be duty free. At the same time, the EAC is reaching the finishing line in its marathon towards the establishment of an EAC Common Market. Hopefully, the protocol to usher in this higher stage of economic integration will be signed by our Heads of State later in November this year.


With these developments, the efficient mobility of people and goods takes pre-eminence. It is efficient mobility that facilitates connections to markets, creates jobs, enhances educational opportunities and secures access to health care. Without elaborate strategies that create and maintain viable transportation options, the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals would be that difficult.


As we speak, the roads, railways and maritime transportation systems in the EAC region are, on average, in a poor state. Tanzania has a better road transport system than the other Partner States. However, the railways system as well as the inland waterways transport systems are in a very poor state. In turn, the urban transport systems are in an even worse condition. Yes, there are efforts underway such as the Dar Rapid Transport System and the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Strategy which seek to address these mega city transport woes. But time effectiveness of these transport programmes appears elusive as costs escalate and unplanned urbanization intensifies.


The transport sector worldwide is largely energy intensive. It consumes a large amount of natural resources. It is estimated that road traffic is responsible for about 25% of worldwide emissions of climate gases. It is thus crucial that a sustainable transport policy and strategy identifies the relevant environmental, social and economic concerns and tries to strike a correct though delicate balance. This is a hugely sensitive task, often linked to political overtones especially in the urbanized poor societies such as those in our region. Yet sustainable mobility is not a choice since the costs of non-sustainable transport systems is huge in terms of air pollution which is life threatening.


WHO estimates that more than 3 million people worldwide die from such air pollution. But the balance is also central because traffic jams and transport related external effects, including the huge fatalities from road accidents, account for lower economic growth in our countries. In fact, our region has one of the highest road accident rates in the world. The fatality rate per 10,000 vehicles is 65 for Kenya, 111 for Tanzania and 122 for Uganda. Rwanda and Burundi experience lesser fatality rates but as urbanization deepens and as motor traffic enhances, the fatality rates could be as high. It is important to note that 65% of the fatalities in the EAC region involve passengers in public transport vehicles and pedestrians.


Many of the EAC megacities such as Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Kampala are now experiencing conurbations. This phenomenon has huge implications on motorized traffic. The challenge lies in reducing traffic through better transport planning systems which are also environmentally sound. These systems must also address the growing special needs of the physically challenged populations which is a major policy deficit in the EAC transport systems.


At the end of the day however, sustainable mobility cannot be realized without political will and institutional reorganizations at the national levels.


By Amb. Juma V. Mwapachu,


Secretary General of the East African Community.

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