Ideas to action: independent research for global prosperity
Africa has a chronic road infrastructure gap. By linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda. Yet Africa currently trails the rest of the world on this crucial measure: Africa is the only region where road density has actually declined over the last two decades. Across the continent, 43 percent of roads are paved, of which 30 percent of all paved roads are in South Africa. This deficit in paved roads has been detrimental to building a modern economy as 80 percent of goods are transported by road.
The continent will require roughly $130-$170 billion a year over the next decade (with a financing gap in the range of $68-108 billion) to close this significant infrastructure gap, but raising that money will be a tall task, given the rising debt burdens for many African countries. Debt, as a percentage of GDP, has risen sharply since 2014 ,with significant variability among countries. Two outcomes could help close the gap: driving down the unit cost per kilometer of pavement without compromising functionality, and reducing the environmental footprint of road infrastructure.
To remain functional, roads must be designed to resist water damage and withstand increasingly common extreme weather events. Across West, East, and Southern Africa there have been historic floods for the past decade wiping out infrastructure. South Sudan alone experienced floods in 2022 that were so severe that 66 percent of the nation was under water. In many parts of the world, roads are sealed or paved for this purpose. There are many types of road seals, but the most common are asphalt concrete and Portland cement—two materials that are cost prohibitive for the scale of Africa’s needs. As the world transitions to net zero, the negative environmental impact of cement and fossil fuels also creates additional difficulties for African roadbuilding. New technologies are needed.
CGD is exploring how advance market commitments (AMCs), prize challenges, and other forms of “pull mechanisms” could help bridge the gap and incentivize the creation and deployment of new road technologies in a cost-effective and environmentally neutral way. AMCs and related mechanisms incentivize innovation by increasing the expected size or predictability of a company’s revenue should it deliver a successful product to market. With a working group that brings together experts from the engineering, policy, and financial worlds, we'll lay out the technical parameters for how a prize challenge would work and what a winning technology would look like. And with consultations with these experts and African policymakers and CGD's own deep well of experience on AMCs, we'll help design a baseline for what an AMC for roads could look like, and how it could help put those new technologies into practice.
The continent’s road gap needs to be closed, urgently. To do that, African governments will need more financing. But we can make that money go as far as possible with new technologies—if we can mobilize the right incentives.
New Mechanisms to Spur Innovation in Expanding Africa's Road NetworksA significant portion of African borrowing over the last decade has gone toward building infrastructure, but still, infrastructure...
What If We Could Pave All of Africa’s Roads?One way to narrow the size of Africa’s infrastructure gap would be to spur the development of new ways of sealing roads that can h...
W. Gyude MooreW. Gyude Moore is a Senior Policy Fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD). He previously served as Liberia’s Minister of Public Works with oversight over the construction...
We thank the members of our working group for their support and expertise. Click here to see the full list and more info on them.