Tackling the Road Safety Crisis in Africa

June 6, 2014


With 24.1 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, Africa has the highest per capita rate of road deaths in the world

  • With only 2% of the world's vehicles but 16% of road fatalities, Africa has been hit particularly hard by the global road safety crisis.
  • In order to take on the road safety challenge, the region has the opportunity to learn from other countries' experience. Creating or strengthening the capacity of road safety agencies will be an important part of that process.
  • The World Bank-led Global Road Safety Facility plays a critical part in helping the continent improve its road safety record, and has supported road safety management capacity reviews in several African countries.

Africa, like the rest of the world, is witnessing a road safety crisis. With the highest per capita rate of road fatalities in the world, road deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to more than double from some 243,000 deaths projected for 2015 to 514,000 by 2030.

This increase will see road fatalities overtake the number of malaria-related deaths in the region. In fact, while fatalities from both HIV/AIDS and malaria are projected to decline, road fatalities will continue to increase in a business-as-usual scenario.

The transport sector, however, is essential to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity: transportation expands access to jobs, education and healthcare; it connects goods and services to markets and is a key driver of growth in African countries where 90% of people and goods are moved by road.  Furthermore, road safety deaths are preventable.

In this context, the World Bank Group works with client countries to provide safer, cleaner and more affordable transport for all.

Worldwide some 1.3 million people die from road crashes and 78 million are injured annually. The socio-economic impact of these deaths and injuries is greater on the poorest in low and middle-income countries. That’s why the World Bank-led Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) is scaling up efforts on road safety.

The scale up means not only an increase in Bank lending for road safety interventions, but also transformational changes in the Bank’s approach, including a multi-sectorial effort and the mainstreaming of safety components into road lending projects.

“It is crucial to strengthen the effectiveness of road safety lead agencies across the continent,” said Tawia Addo-Ashong, program coordinator of the Bank’s GRSF.  “And these efforts need to be integrated into the wider African road safety agenda to achieve greater and sustainable impact.” 

Addo-Ashong spoke on the Bank’s safe systems approach to help improve road safety in developing countries at the 1st Africa Regional Congress on roads, held in Abuja from June 4-6.

" It is crucial to strengthen the effectiveness of road safety lead agencies across the continent. And these efforts need to be integrated into the wider African road safety agenda to achieve greater and sustainable impact. "

Tawia Addo-Ashong

Program Coordinator, Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF)

Better roads, better world

The inaugural event, which was organized by the International Road Federation, hosted by the Federal Ministry of Works and supported by GRSF, delivered practical guidance across various transportation challenges, including road safety, infrastructure asset management, innovative public-private financing and capacity building of transport professionals. It brought together regional and local stakeholders from government, academia, multilateral banks, civil society and the private sector to help find solutions to the region’s most pressing transportation challenges.

The event was officially inaugurated by Nigeria’s Vice President Namadi Sambu who, on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan, said that the congress came at an opportune time when the administration was committed to expanding road infrastructure.

Sambu explained that the theme of the event “Harnessing Africa’s Transportation Potential: the Role of the Stakeholder” was indeed pertinent as the government was implementing various projects that aimed to provide better and safer roads for Nigerians.

At the same opening ceremony, Nigeria’s Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, welcomed some 250 participants to the historic event, and said that the huge infrastructure gap in Africa offered great opportunities to foreign investors.

The International Road Federation President & CEO, Patrick Sankey, said that IRF was a global advocate for better roads around the world where it offers a range of capacity building services, and the facilitation of public-private partnerships.

“Let’s make a reality the motto of better roads, better world,” he said referring to IRF’s slogan, while stressing the need to maximize the positive value of roads to societies and increase road safety across the globe.

“Usually the living close the eyes of the dead, but sometimes the dead open the eyes of the living,” Sankey said quoting a South African former Minister for Transport after the death of one of the late Nelson Mandela’s great-grand child killed by a drunk driver a few years ago.

“Our eyes need to be open regarding the challenges we face around the world, and this congress will provide the knowledge and best practices to prevent road-related deaths,” Sankey added.

Focus on road safety

Road safety is indeed a major topic of this 1st Africa Regional Congress.  Road crashes are the eighth leading cause of death in the world, and cost an average of 3 per cent of GDP in losses. And while Africans only own 2 per cent of the world’s vehicles, they suffer 16 per cent of road fatalities worldwide.

The good news is that African countries can leapfrog the road safety process based on the experience and lessons learned in more developed countries. This requires actions on various fronts, including:

  • The establishment of lead road safety agencies (if they do not exist) or their strengthening, as well as capacity building to effectively sustain safety improvements.
  • A series of key policy and investment decisions relating to the road network, driver and vehicle regulation, better data management systems and legislation addressing key risk factors.
  • Investment in systematic mainstreaming of road safety in regional trade road corridors to minimize deadly crashes.

Relevant guidelines

In this context, the Global Road Safety Facility and the Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP) prepared relevantguidelines that provide the platform for assessing road safety management capacity in client countries.

The guidelines address all aspects of road safety management – from institutional management functions to specific interventions and results.  The review of the capacity to manage road safety also lays the foundation for lead agency reforms, investment strategies and safe-system projects within a country.

Almost all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (except Liberia and Tanzania) have nominated a lead agency for road safety, according to the WHO.  These agencies, however, may not have a strong government mandate or sufficient funding.  Some may be government institutions with low levels of safety management capacity.

The World Bank-led GRSF is supporting various transport agencies in Africa, including Kenya and Ghana, to establish a strong-mandated and well-resourced government lead agency.

In preparation of the road safety component of the Southern Africa Trade and Transportation facilitation Project, GRSF also supported a review of the road safety management capacity of the North-South Corridor in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. The review found weaknesses in various areas of the project and outlined clear recommendations and actions for each area.

The Facility also supported the review of road safety management capacity in Mauritius, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Kayode Olagunju, Head of Policy, Research and Statistics Department at Nigeria’s Federal Road Safety Corps, explained that the government was working on all five pillars of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, which aims to halve road fatalities by 2020.

Olagunju, representing the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive Osita Chidoka, proudly mentioned that Nigeria’s Road Safety Corps is an organization with an ISO 9000 certification, and thus is becoming a model for other countries to replicate. The World Bank has supported and recognized the efforts of the FRSC.

Towards the end of the first day of the event, IRF Executive Vice President, Michael Dreznes, urged participants to find ways to make road safety a priority in spite of the challenges or failures. He reminded the audience of what the great basketball player Michael Jordan once said: “I am a success because of my failures.”