Transforming Africa’s transport sector through networking: a catalyst for progress

How strong networks will shape Africa’s transport future

GIZ is currently running a call for a first “Rethinking Transport Lab”, an exciting initiative designed to promote creativity, innovation and collaboration between transport stakeholders in Africa. These Labs, along with other related activities under the Rethinking Transport initiative, represents a new approach for GIZ, focusing on strengthening personal and professional networks rather than just institutional capacity building. Discover how networking could serve as a driving force for progress in Africa’s transport sector.

Africa’s development needs are becoming more urgent owing to the effects of climate change, rapid population growth and lifestyle changes. These factors are placing heightened financial demands on the continent, exacerbating the challenges faced by African nations that are still in the process of recovering from the recent global pandemic. While aid continues to play a crucial role in building capacity, leveraging resources, and achieving targeted outcomes, it is evident that African leaders must explore alternative approaches to traditional development strategies. This includes engaging actively with private sector investments, promoting domestic resource mobilization, as well as exploring debt relief and restructuring options. These strategies, in conjunction with robust partnerships and collaborations, will be vital in leveraging resources, sharing knowledge, and implementing effective solutions to meet the increasing financial demands and drive progress across the continent.

Transport plays a vital role in driving economic growth, facilitating trade, and fostering community connections. However, it is a key contributor to raising CO2 emissions: 29 % of total CO2 emissions from the combustion of coal, crude oil, and natural gas are attributable to the transport sector, and most of that comes from road vehicles[i].  Although Africa’s contribution is smaller, emission trends on the continent call for immediate action. Greening the sector will therefore play a significant role in combating climate change and boosting Africa’s development [ii].

The influential Kofi Annan emphasizes that “partnerships can lead to sustainable structural change” on the continent.  As such partnerships often emerge from networking, it is crucial to explore the immense potential that networking among African transport practitioners and organizations could offer to revolutionize and greening the transport and mobility sector in Africa.

The power of networking: a scientific perspective

Scientific evidence and principles firmly support the potential benefits of networking among individuals and organizations. The field of social network analysis offers a comprehensive framework for understanding how relationships and interactions between entities can foster innovation, knowledge sharing, and collaborative problem-solving.

  • Strong ties within a network enable individuals to tap into their contacts’ resources, while weak ties bridge different networks, expanding the pool of resources available[iii].
  • Networks influence individual and collective decision-making processes as well-connected individuals exert greater influence and possess diverse information, leading to enhanced decision-making and innovative outcomes[iiii].
  • Additionally, diverse networks, encompassing connections across different domains, facilitate knowledge sharing and stimulate creativity[iiiii].

The importance of networking in the transport sector

Numerous challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, limited access to transport services, and inefficient systems, hinder progress in the transport sector[iiiii], which is vital fro Africa’s economic and social development. For instance, studies have shown that poor road, rail and port facilities add 30% to 40% to the costs of goods traded among African countries, thus adversely affecting the private sector development and the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI).

Furthermore, traffic congestion is a prevalent issue in many African cities, hampering economic productivity, causing tremendous air pollution and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Networking among African transport practitioners could offer a promising avenue to overcome these obstacles and unlock the full potential of Africa’s transport and mobility landscape.

  • Sharing knowledge and best practices: Networking will enable the exchange of knowledge, experience and best practice between transport practitioners, helping to identify successful strategies and innovative solutions. This sharing of knowledge can help accelerate development, avoiding redundant efforts and enabling the adoption of proven approaches.
  • Collaboration and resource mobilisation: Through partnerships and alliances, stakeholders can pool their expertise, financial resources, and technical capacities to tackle common mobility challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical role of networking in addressing socio-economic challenges. For example, a study conducted in South Africa during the pandemic highlights that organizations working in silos were limited in reaching vulnerable individuals, leading to a lower impact. By coordinating efforts in the transport sector in Africa, the collective impact can be amplified, facilitating the implementation of large-scale projects and initiatives.
  • Catalysing innovation: By fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and bringing together diverse perspectives, networking can spark creativity and catalyse the development of ground-breaking solutions. Innovations in areas such as smart transportation systems, renewable energy integration, and digital connectivity can revolutionize mobility in Africa, ensuring sustainability, efficiency, and inclusivity. A strong network and collaboration in the transport sector are therefore essential to build sustainable transport systems and catalyse innovation in promoting gender equality in transport.
  • Policy advocacy and influence: Networking is a political strategy to deal with repression and opposition, which will provide support, protection and solidarity. It could therefore play a crucial role in policy advocacy and influence within the transport sector in Africa. By bringing together various stakeholders, networks will create a unified voice for driving policy reforms and promoting sustainable practices. Collective advocacy efforts can then shape transport policies, regulations, and investments, fostering an enabling environment for the sector’s growth and development.

Linking networking initiatives with donor activities in Africa

To maximize the impact of networking in the transport sector, it is essential to establish synergies with donor activities. This linkage can forge a mutually beneficial relationship, leading to enhanced impact and effectiveness in addressing the transport sector’s challenges. Donors have long played a crucial role in providing financial support, technical expertise, and policy guidance to advance development goals in Africa.

For instance, the Rethinking Transport in Africa project actively supports the development of positions and strategies for the sustainable transformation of the transport sector on the African continent. The project aims to bring together stakeholders from academia, civil society, and the private sector, to foster an inclusive and collaborative environment for knowledge sharing and networking. Such initiatives therefore contribute to aligning efforts, pooling resources, and leveraging expertise to address the challenges faced by the transport sector. Here are some key approaches to integrating networking with donor initiatives:

  • Funding mechanisms for collaborative projects: Donors can establish funding mechanisms that incentivize collaborative projects among transport practitioners. They can encourage partnerships and consortiums by supporting initiatives that address shared challenges and deliver transformative outcomes. For instance, funding opportunities can be designed to prioritize projects with cross-border relevance, innovation potential, and a focus on sustainability and inclusivity.
  • Knowledge exchange and capacity building: Donors can support knowledge exchange programs and capacity-building initiatives within the networking framework. This includes organizing and supporting workshops, seminars, and training sessions that promote the sharing of expertise, enhance technical skills, and foster a culture of continuous learning. They can also facilitate access to relevant research, data, and tools to strengthen the evidence base for decision-making and policy formulation.
  • Establishment of think tanks: Think tanks serve as independent research institutions that generate valuable insights, conduct policy analysis, and offer evidence-based recommendations. They can therefore play a crucial role in bridging the gap between research and policy, providing a platform for stakeholders to access reliable information, exchange knowledge, and collaborate on sustainable transport solutions for Africa. Donors will then create greater impact on the continent if they can provide financial resources and technical expertise to help set up these think tanks, enabling them to conduct in-depth research, engage in policy dialogue and contribute to informed decision-making on transport.

In a nutshell, networking appears to be an essential tool for reshaping Africa’s transport sector, unlocking new opportunities, driving innovation, and paving the way for sustainable and inclusive mobility. Financial support will be vital in harnessing its full potential, with initiatives that facilitate collaboration, resource mobilization, and knowledge exchange. As we move forward, it is imperative to prioritize funding mechanisms that incentivize collaboration, support knowledge exchange, and enhance capacity building.

Let’s embrace the power of networking, cultivate strong partnerships, and work collectively to build a transport ecosystem that serves the needs of the people, fosters economic growth, and enhances the quality of life for all Africans.

Daniel Bongardt

Interested to become part of a network of African transport practitioners to engage in the sustainable future of transport across the continent? Check out the Rethinking Transport Labs, that aim to bring together 30 African practitioners to exchange and connect about key topics for sustainable transport.  If you are looking for like-minded people, this LinkedIn Group provides opportunities to get in touch online with practitioners from across Africa.

[i] Granovetter M. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360–1380.

[ii] Agora Verkehrswende and GIZ (2023): Leapfrogging to Sustainable Transport in Africa. Twelve Insights into the Continent’s Sector Transformation.

[iii] Burt RS (2004) Structural holes and good ideas. Am J Sociol.

[iiii] Uzzi B, Spiro J (2005) Collaboration and creativity: the small world problem. Am J Sociol 111(2):447–504

[iiiii] World Bank. (2020). Africa’s Pulse, No. 21: An Analysis of Issues Shaping Africa’s Economic Future.  License: CC BY 3.0 IGO

The “Rethinking Transport – Connecting for African Solutions” project is funded the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH own ressources. The project is implemented by GIZ in cooperation with the German think tank Agora Verkehrswende.

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