HUNDREDS of thousands of people across the globe over the weekend watched in shock and with despair as the funeral procession of Zimbdancehall chanter Soul Jah Love, born Soul Musaka, snaked around on Harare’s potholed roads.
The funeral procession from his Msasa home via his Prospect family house to Warren Hills Cemetery exposed the deplorable state of the country’s infrastructure.
We watched in disbelief the poor state of the roads. Our eyes were glued on the crater-sized potholes, which are increasingly becoming hazardous to drivers, especially during the rainy season, as standing water masks some of the potholes.
The dereliction of the country’s road infrastructure has reached alarming levels, screaming for urgent action from government and local authorities.
The major highways have also suffered neglect and underinvestment over the years. The government has not provided meaningful investment in expanding and maintaining them. They have become death traps. Instead of progressing with the times, the country has been terribly regressing. Because of the sorry state of the roads, peripheral areas in the country are now inaccessible.
The government this month declared all roads in the country a state of disaster. This, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said will facilitate the release of funds for their repair and maintenance.
Mutsvangwa recently admitted that significant portions of national roads had been compromised by incessant rains.
She said government was working on necessary legal procedures to effect a declaration which eases mobilisation of funds to repair damaged roads, and ensures quality standardisation of works.
“Cabinet has resolved that all roads in the country be declared a state of disaster. The declaration would facilitate the release of resources for the repair and rehabilitation of all roads that require such works,” Mutsvangwa said.
The ministry of Finance announced that during 2021, the Road Fund would disburse ZW$4,8 billion (US$57,8 million) to all road authorities as follows:
Department of roads, ZW$1,3 billion (US$15,6 million)
District Development Fund, ZW$867 million (US$10,4 million)
Urban local authorities, ZW$1,5 billion (US$18 million)
Rural local authorities, ZW$ 1,1 billion (US$13,2 million)
The US$57,6 million is just a drop in the ocean to facelift the country’s road network of around 90 000 kilometres, of which 9 500 km are bitumen-surfaced state highways and urban roads. Most of the rural roads are unpaved or dust roads.
However, most of the bitumen-surfaced roads have outlived their lifespan of 15-20 years. Most were constructed before Independence in 1980 when the population was below half the country’s current population of close to 15 million people and when traffic flow was minimal.
Information contained in the just concluded economic turn-around strategy, Transitional Stabilisation Programme, indicated that the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank studies estimate that US$5,5 billion was needed to rehabilitate the country’s entire road network.
A 2019 report by AfDB pointed out that Zimbabwe needs over US$34 billion in the next 10 years to upgrade its infrastructure to achieve sustainable levels of economic growth.
Unfortunately, the country cannot afford to spend US$3,4 billion a year, just to keep up with developments on the continent and in the region.
Declaring the roads a national disaster is not enough; the country needs a clear road rehabilitation framework. This can be through a binding Public Private Partnership framework. To deal with corruption in the sector, the country needs a clear plan of action and transparent distribution of revenues from the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration.
The country also needs to adopt more of the Build Operate and Transfer model with foreign financiers to rehabilitate, maintain and expand the country’s highways.
With the growing population, the government should seriously consider investing in the rail network and also open it up to private players, instead of just relying on the defunct National Railways of Zimbabwe. This will reduce road traffic.
More than anything, what Soul Jah Love’s funeral procession did was to show the urgency with which government must act.