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How a good road network is a vital link to a better tomorrow

OPINION
By Isaac Kalua | October 9th 2021

We must continue expanding the rural road network and ensuring that this expansion boosts the green economy. [Courtesy]

A good friend from France recently took nearly one hour to drive the 28km from Voi to Sagalla. This was almost four times the time it takes to drive a similar distance, from Kangemi to Kahawa Sukari.

The main difference between these locations in Nairobi and Taita Taveta County can be summed up in two words – tarmac road. Almost the entire Voi–Sagalla road is not tarmacked, whereas the road linking Kangemi and Kahawa Sukari is. Imagine the loss of time and opportunities for the people of Sagalla whenever they travel to Voi!

This is the same case everywhere that we have bad roads. Indeed, good roads and therefore mobility contribute immensely to economic development and growth, leading to good social security.

Amidst this quest to step up our road network, I suggest that we be a fair-minded community as we commend the good work that the Government has done in expanding our roadways across the country. In the last nine years, according to Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, the Government has constructed more than 10,300km of tarmac roads. This distance is the equivalent of 21 trips from Nairobi to Mombasa. Apart from connecting people, these roads have boosted local economies, created employment, increased security and accelerated the provision of other public services.

Among these roads is the Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale highway. When it was completed in 2014, it revolutionised road transport not just in northern Kenya but also beyond. The Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale highway is part of the Great North Road from Cape Town to Cairo.

Another stretch of this trans-African road is the Kisumu Road infrastructure project constructed between 2013 and 2016. It is part of a major international road artery that starts in Mombasa and connects Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mammoth road covers more than 2,000km and has boosted trade between all these countries.

Back home at the very heart of the country, the construction of the 27km-long Nairobi Expressway is roaring on. This road begins at Mlolongo and concludes at the James Gichuru Road junction. A staggering 30,000 vehicles ply the entirety of this stretch every day, resulting in never-ending traffic jams, loss of time and money.

The fact that this expressway is Kenya’s first public-private partnership (PPP) road project proves that it is possible to build our roads through innovative financing that is not dependent on government. In the same vein, this road project is empowering young engineers in an unprecedented fashion. It is giving real-life experience to third-year students of the University of Nairobi’s School of Civil Engineering. These young people are receiving priceless practical knowledge that will position them to perpetuate quality road construction in every corner of the country and the continent.

Currently, in sub-Saharan Africa, roads are responsible for ferrying 75 per cent of people and goods. It’s no wonder roads are the veins through which the economy strides on. As such, when roads fall into disrepair or are simply non-existent, the economy slows down to a crawl. Unfortunately, 50 per cent of roads in sub-Saharan Africa are yet to be constructed. We must therefore continue building roads that will not only link us to a brighter future, but also inject immense economic value into our present.

The World Bank sums it up well when it asserts that for rural communities in particular, a road is often an essential lifeline that links isolated villages to economic opportunities and services. Considering that seven out of 10 Kenyans still live in rural areas, we must continue expanding the rural road network and ensuring that this expansion boosts the green economy. In our cities, the new bypasses continue to address traffic congestion, environmental pollution, road accidents and spur economic growth around our cities.

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