Browsing: Africa’s railways infrastructure

A Transnet Freight Rail train is seen next to tons of coal mined from the nearby Khanye Colliery mine, at the Bronkhorstspruit station, in Bronkhorstspruit, around 90 kilometers north-east of Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • South Africa and Botswana have agreed to fund the improvement and extension of rail links between the countries in a bid to boost trade and better connect Botswana to export markets
  • The rail revamp is expected to enable heavy haul trains to travel from Botswana to South Africa’s ports of Richards Bay and Durban
  • Botswana Railways previously signed a related agreement with South African rail operator Spoornet in 2007

Railways in Southern Africa constitute one of the most integrated networks linking some 12 mainland SADC countries, with a route network of more than 22,000 kilometres.

Around the 1970s, railways carried most of the internal, exports and imports amounting to about 250 million tones, with the railway market share exceeding the 50% mark, and enjoyed recognized levels of efficiencies.

Whilst the railways had been reliable forms of transportation for both passengers and goods for decades, on a selective basis, several challenges …

Over the past decade Africa has been rife with infrastructure developments that hitherto continue to steadily transform the continent, spurring the much-needed economic development. This is well aligned to aspiration 2 of Africa’s Agenda 2063, which advocates for ‘an integrated continent politically united based on the ideas of Pan Africanism and the vision of African Renaissance’ with the key priority area of developing world class infrastructure that crisscrosses Africa.

Inadequate infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa has remained an existential hurdle to the continent’s achievement of robust economic growth. According to a report by Deloitte, this status quo has reduced national economic growth by two percentage points every year, and cut business productivity by as much as 40 per cent. In reiteration, another report by McKinsey and Company highlights that Africa faces an infrastructure paradox, in that there is need and availability of funding together with a large pipeline of potential projects…

Even as Africa is looking forward to the operationalisation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), a lot needs to be done to make connectivity seamless. 

For one, the continent’s rail network remains grossly underdeveloped limiting the potential of transporting goods in bulk and conveniently. 

With most of the railway network remaining in the same state it was in before many African nations gained independence, the infrastructure underdevelopment has stymied growth in the transport sector since many goods have to be transported by road.

Read: Africa becomes world's largest free trade zone

Few countries have made an effort of upgrading their rail systems even as talk of the AfCFTA gains momentum.  

With the setback occasioned by the pandemic, delaying rolling out the trade agreement could be an opportunity for African nations to work on transport infrastructure upgrades which could make achieving the vision of the trade