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Research in transport will spur growth

Wednesday June 13 2018

Nairobi-Thika highway

A section of Nairobi-Thika highway. PHOTO | FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JACOB Z RUWA
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A functioning transport sector is a key pillar of a nation’s socio-economic development as a key enabler for sustained economic growth, development and poverty reduction.

In Kenya, road transport is the predominant mode of transportation as roads facilitate cheaper and convenient movement of goods and people.

Kenya is strategically located and positioned as a transport and logistics hub in East and Central Africa. To make this a reality, there is a need for cost-effective, efficient, safe and seamless modes of transport within the country and those linking us to our neighbours.

The government has invested heavily in transport infrastructure. Our road assets, valued at over Sh4 trillion, represent one of the country’s largest public investments. That has led to improved road conditions and reduced travel time and costs, thereby increasing productivity and competitiveness of the economy.

A case in point is the Thika Superhighway, Mombasa Road and Ngong Road, which is being expanded.

STANDARD GAUGE RAILWAY

Rail transport has been transformed with the launch of the standard gauge railway (SGR) — the ‘Madaraka Express’. Expansion of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Mombasa Port have also boosted regional trade.

Further efforts to ensure accelerated development in the country was witnessed in March, when President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the landmark agreement creating African Continental Free Trade Area, bringing 54 nations under one common market.

The deal was signed by 43 other African leaders.

The reality that intra-Africa trade has always been hindered by lack of good regional infrastructure became even more vivid.

The realisation of the country’s development agenda, including the ‘Big Four’, will largely depend on the quality of our transport system.

The sector aims at sustaining and expanding physical infrastructure to support a rapidly growing economy in line with Vision 2030.

REGIONAL TRADE

Studies show that Africa’s intra-regional trade still lies well below that of other regions. In 2016, intra-African exports made up 18 per cent of total exports compared to 59 per cent and 69 per cent for intra-Asia and intra-Europe exports, respectively.

The figures for imports are similar. But although there have been slight improvements in the past 10 years, there is a need to increase the total volume of trade.

The development of African infrastructural projects such as the highway from Cape Town to Cairo, the Mombasa-Lagos-Dakar trans-African highway and the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor are expected to stimulate trade between the countries along the corridors while opening up opportunities for Africa’s many landlocked countries to participate in global trade.

Partnerships and collaborations, including government-to-government alliances, necessitates these multi-country projects.

LIMITED BUDGETS

In the face of limited budgets for infrastructure development, research and innovation will be pivotal in providing cost-effective transport solutions. True and sustainable transformation of livelihoods calls for the deployment of cutting edge and non-conventional transport solutions.

Developing and nurturing a strong research and development culture in the transport sector is key.

Rigorous research data collection, collation and analysis, as well as properly structured findings and uptake, including embedment, is vital for advances in technologies to power industry.

The first International Transport and Road Research Conference (ITRARR) was held by the Kenya Roads Board (KRB) in collaboration with the Materials Testing and Research Division in 2016.

The conference offers an opportunity for transport stakeholders to deliberate and share lessons and best practices.

INNOVATION

The second, ITRARR 2018, is a unique forum for in-depth discussions on the role of research and innovation in transport in the region. Under way in Mombasa since Monday and ending tomorrow, it will bring together transport stakeholders from across the world. Themed ‘Transport Solutions to Transform Lives- Research and Innovation for Safe, Efficient and Seamless Transport’, it will enhance knowledge management, collaboration and partnership in transport research and influence transport policy decisions through research.

It is time all transport stakeholders had the conversation about the place of research in the industry. Let us consult research and adopt the lessons that come with it.

 Mr Ruwa, an engineer, is the executive director of the Kenya Roads Board. [email protected]