Enhancing the Trans-Saharan Road corridor to boost trade and economic development
UNCTAD and the Islamic Development Bank launch a roadmap for supporting economic development and regional integration through Africa’s Trans-Saharan corridor.
Trade and transport corridors, the major routes that facilitate the movement of people and goods between regions and countries, have existed for millennia.
The Trans-Saharan Road (TSR) corridor, one of the oldest in Africa, comprises a 4,500-kilometre main road that links Algeria, Niger and Nigeria with an additional 4,600 kilometres of highways connecting Chad, Mali, Niger and Tunisia. More than 80% of the corridor is paved or asphalted.
UNCTAD and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) launched on 25 October a report providing recommendations that countries along the corridor can implement with the Trans-Saharan Road Liaison Committee and the support of development partners to transform the TSR from a road transport corridor to an economic one.
The study entitled “Towards an economic corridor: Commercializing and managing the Trans-Saharan Road Corridor” is an outcome of a project aimed at promoting trade through a regional transport corridor management mechanism.
“An economic corridor will enable TSR nations to move towards greater continental integration,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “This joint study considers ways of achieving this through greater connectivity, transit and trade.”
Corridors for sustainable development
Economic corridors enable regions and countries to offer high-capacity transport systems and services that reduce transport time, as well as trade and transport costs, by improving connectivity, efficiency and creating economies of scale.
According to the report, upgrading the road and transport corridor to an economic one can lead to significant trade and development gains by attracting investment and generating economic activity, benefiting surrounding regions.
This is achieved through infrastructure investment, expanding logistics activities, and various measures aimed at fostering economic, social and sustainable development.
And for landlocked countries, corridors are vital economic lifelines, providing the only overland routes to ports that connect to regional and international markets.
“At the Islamic Development Bank, we believe that the Trans-Saharan Road corridor can unlock the untapped potential not only in the six en-route countries but also in the whole African continent,” said Riad Ragueb Ahmed, director of cooperation and capacity development at IsDB.
“Through this joint study, we provide concrete recommendations to take the road to the next level of being a vibrant economic corridor,” he added.
The TSR is expected to be a major axis for the development of commercial and economic activities between Northern and West Africa, helping reduce transport time and costs, boosting intra-African trade and improving regional and global connectivity.
“We are grateful for the collaboration with UNCTAD and the Islamic Development Bank, which allowed for this study to be carried out,” said Mohammed Ayadi, Secretary General of the Trans-Saharan Road Liaison Committee, which has collaborated on the study.
“We welcome the launch of this report to help promote the commercialization of the TSR corridor, in a bid to accelerate trade integration and economic development in the region,” he added.
The report evaluates TSR corridor performance, outlining hard and soft infrastructure constraints and challenges. It also makes recommendations for overcoming them.
Hard infrastructure (such as missing links and border crossings) and soft measures (such as regulations, ICTs, harmonization, and the exchange of information) are needed to move the TSR from a transport corridor to an economic one.
Despite investment in roads by countries along the TSR corridor, some major issues remain unresolved.
Challenges include incomplete links along the road infrastructure of the TSR corridor, road safety concerns, and uneven road conditions between countries.
Others are lack of road maintenance policies and funding disparities, lack of transport and trade facilitation measures, and non-compliance with relevant international conventions.
Traffic is low and uneven on roads along the corridor. For example, in 2019, traffic on the main north-south axis was highest in the sections in Algeria and Nigeria, with the share of heavy traffic (trucks) at 15% in Algeria and 35% in Nigeria.
The report offers a vision for the establishment of a cooperation framework to help the TSR evolve towards an economic corridor.
It also suggests the most suitable regional management mechanism and structure that would support effective operation, management as well as commercialization of the corridor.