An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview
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P. Transport

Africa has about 30,000 miles of railway, of several different gauges. The railways are most developed in the Maghreb (1) and in South Africa, where average density is a mile of railway for every 50-60 square miles; in tropical Africa, it is one for every 340-350 square miles (against 1 for 18 in the U.S.A. and 1 for 8 in France). The best road networks are also in South Africa and along parts of the Mediterranean coast. Road building has been speeded up since the war, and newly independent states like Ghana are giving it special attention, but good hard-topped or even gravel roads are few in the tropical areas; the 'continental routes' are mostly dirt roads, with many stretches impassable in the rainy season.

The chief navigable waterways (apart from the Suez Canal - 6) are: the Congo and its tributaries, about 8,000 miles in all, far the most extensive river navigation system; the Niger and Benue; the Nile; and the Great Lakes of East Africa. Rail links have been built to complete the transport system at points where river navigation is broken by rapids, as on the Congo below Leopoldville (B, 24); but this means costly transhipment (some freight from the interior has to switch from river to rail and back three or four times to reach a seaport).

Passenger transport is largely by rail and waterway, though more and more buses are now operating, especially in West Africa.

The transport deficiency is a serious obstacle to general development, but difficult terrain, tropical conditions, and the need to import skill and many materials make new construction expensive. Most current construction is of roads on routes where neither rail nor river provides a means of transport, but some new railways are also being built (20, 31).

The numerous railways that link the hinterland with seaports reflect the dependence of the modern parts of most regions' economies on overseas trade, and the low level of trade between African areas themselves. The artificial pattern of past colonial rule is stamped on much of the rail system, with its differing gauges, and, in some cases, routes that conform to the borders between the spheres of former ruling powers rather than to economic realities.

Most large cities are now on international air routes, and there are many regular inter-territorial flights, the main gap in these being between West Africa and the north-east. The coming of air transport has had important political effects, making possible conferences of leaders from many parts of Africa who could not otherwise have met

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