There is a popular Chinese proverb which goes: “if you want to get rich, you have to build roads first”, and this is often quoted to explain some of the accelerated development taking place in the Asian country.
This proverb aptly applies to the approach being undertaken by the New Dispensation under President Mnangagwa’s administration.
The accelerated roads infrastructure development programme being undertaken in Zimbabwe will eventually lead to the uplifting of people from poverty, “leaving no place and no one behind”. Well, there have been some quick to be simplistic by saying: “we don’t eat roads”, in reference to the massive road works.
What these people seem not to understand is that without the roads, they may actually end up eating nothing at all.
Roads have been proved to be the anchor of development, especially in emerging countries where goods and services are often related to transportation.
In fact, the development of roads will result in Zimbabweans “eating more” as economic development attributed to the efficient movement of goods and trade takes root.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Felix Mhona has on several occasions pronounced the importance of the accelerated roads development programme to Zimbabwe.
Addressing parastatals at the ministry’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) cocktail party in May, Minister Mhona said: “We will strive to continue and sustain our efforts in undertaking extensive infrastructural development projects through the construction, upgrading and rehabilitation of our roads to enhance the transportation of goods and people. We also aim to boost accessibility through the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP) which is now in phase two.”
Zimbabwe strives to become an upper middle income economy by 2030 under what has been popularised as Vision 2030, and the state of roads plays an important role in achieving this goal. According to the Vision 2030 policy document, the goal seeks to fundamentally transform the country to an upper middle income economy, with a per capita Gross National Income of over US$5 000 in real terms by 2030, from the current US$1 440.
On road infrastructure development, the Vision 2030 document is clear that the country has to develop a functional road infrastructure that fosters competitiveness of domestically produced goods. This entails investment in construction and rehabilitation of roads.
The theme on Vision 2030 attainment and the role road infrastructure development is supposed to play to enhance such an achievement runs through the government’s objectives under National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), which covers January 2021 to December 2025.
In fact, to achieve Vision 2030, there is need to export sufficient goods, which will bring in foreign currency, but this can only become a reality when the road network is up to scratch.
The other importance of the road development programme being undertaken by the Second Republic is to enhance trade between the country and others in the region, and ultimately the rest of the world.
Some studies carried out, especially in developing countries, have noted the symbiotic connection between economic development aspirations of such countries and the development of road infrastructure.
It can be noted that road infrastructure development in Zimbabwe is also being carried out as a fulfilment of expectations under the North-South Corridor. The North-South Corridor links the copper belts in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo via Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi, with ports in Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa.
But the corridor is not confined to copper belts alone, a host of other goods and services are transported by road in these countries, giving them access to seaports.
Under the North-South Corridor, Zimbabwe is almost completing the reconstruction of the Harare-Beitbridge Highway, while work is set to begin on Harare-Chirundu, Bulawayo-Victoria Falls and Bulawayo-Beitbridge roads.
Apart from enhancing regional trade, road infrastructure development being undertaken by the Second Republic will eventually improve internal business dealings, allowing the easy passage of goods, services and human traffic.
Links are being established between towns and cities, rural areas and other service centres throughout the country, emphasising connectivity as a means to spur development.
In fact, there is an envisaged creation of easy links to markets for rural farmers, who had been struggling to reach cities, towns and rural service centres because of the poor road network.
This is precisely why road infrastructure development in Zimbabwe has been touted as one of the major drivers of economic growth and development. To this end, the government has set aside some financial resources towards the reconstruction and upgrading of the road infrastructure, including road surfaces and bridges. President Mnangagwa launched the $33,6 billion ERRP2 in April 2021, where he emphasised the importance of roads rehabilitation to the country.
“This launch is indeed a key milestone, as Zimbabwe forges ahead with modernising the national transport infrastructure, which is a key enabler for economic growth and development,” he said.
NDS1, the economic development guideline for the country, makes it clear that economic challenges experienced over the past two decades affected the ability of the country to ensure continuous and sustained rehabilitation and maintenance of road transport infrastructure.
This resulted in the road infrastructure deteriorating as a result of long periods of inadequate maintenance and lack of rehabilitation and upgrading. But the NDS1 recognised that road infrastructure is strategic in enhancing accessibility, as well as promoting domestic and regional trade, hence the fast-tracked roads development programme being carried out by Government. According to the African Development Bank’s 2011 report, there were 88 100 kilometres of classified roads in Zimbabwe, of which 17 400km were paved.
At least five percent of the road network in the country is classified as primary roads and has some of the most trafficked arterials that link Zimbabwe with the neighbouring countries.
A portion of the Pan-Africa Highway, a route that links Cape Town at the southern tip of the continent in South Africa and Cairo at the northern tip of the continent in Egypt, passes through Zimbabwe.
This road network plays a major role in the movement of Zimbabwe’s imports and exports as well as transit freight.
About 14 percent of the road network in Zimbabwe is classified as secondary roads that link the main economic centres within the country, enabling internal movement of people and goods.
The primary and secondary roads are collectively referred to as the trunk road system; and they carry over 70 percent of the vehicular traffic. A little more than 70 percent of the network is made up of tertiary feeder and access roads that link rural areas to the secondary road network. The tertiary access roads, together with the unclassified tracks, provide for the intra-rural access movements.
They link rural communities to social economic amenities, such as schools, health centres and markets. Government services also easily reach the rural areas through these roads.
The remaining 11 percent of the road network are urban roads managed by urban councils.
In terms of roads, the aim of NDS1 is to increase the number of kilometres of the road network in good condition in Zimbabwe to 24 500 kilometres by 2025, hence the massive road infrastructure development taking place.
By emphasising on road infrastructure development, Zimbabwe is in line with other development countries that anchored their development of quality roads. In a developing country like Sri Lanka, research has shown that development of road infrastructure resulted in industrial output raising to more than 60 percent.
In China, investment in road infrastructure led to an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contributions for manufacturing and service industries.
In this case, trade, industry, agriculture and commerce are the major beneficiaries of an efficient road infrastructure, as there is a competitive edge in moving goods and services.
This implies that countries with a less developed road infrastructure are likely to lag behind in terms of development and modernisation of their operations. It is fortunate that Zimbabwe, under the New Dispensation, has fully embraced the road development concept and will leverage on this to propel its development ambitions, especially when it comes to industrialisation and modernisation.