Road development one of Namibia’s major accomplishments

By Dr Moses Amweelo

NAMIBIA has made major strides in infrastructure development since gaining independence in March 1990. In 2015, the Southern African nation, which marks its 27th Independence anniversary, was named the country with best roads in Africa, by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The foundation’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2014/15 noted Namibians road construction and maintenance adheres to international standards. The Namibian national road network total 46 376, of which 7 165 are bitumen standard roads.

In 1990, the Government of Namibian established the ministry of works, transport and then communication that was mandated to ensuring the availability and quality of transport infrastructure and specialised services, as well as functional and assigned accommodation to the satisfaction of the customer and government.

The ministry has commercialised some services on a self-sustaining basis and the core ministry remains responsible for the regulatory and ownership control aspects only.

The purpose of the restructuring of the ministry was to provide, maintain and administer government infrastructure in respect of accommodation, transport, communication and certain specialised services in a more efficient way.

The department of transport is responsible for transport in its broadest sense. It is involved in each of the four transport modes, namely, road, rail, air and sea.

The overall objective of this department is to ensure the provision of safe, effective and efficient transport services, in balance with demand, in the different modes.

At independence, Namibia found itself relatively well-supplied with road, aviation and rail infrastructure, but in a regionally imbalanced way.

Since then, priorities of the government in the transport sector have been the maintenance of the existing road infrastructure to avoid deterioration, developing the road network in the previously neglected areas, upgrading road links to neighbouring countries and further development of harbour infrastructure.

To determine the present and future transport needs and to develop programmes for the implantation of transport infrastructure projects, a number of master plans and feasibility studies have been undertaken since 1990.

These includes the Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Oshana and Omusati roads, Okavango East and West roads and Zambezi roads master plans as well as the National Transport Development Plan. Also undertaken were the Windhoek airport, Eros Aerodrome, and Walvis Bay Airport master plans.

The various feasibility studies include the Trans-Caprivi Highway, Trans-Caprivi Highway environment impact assessment, Okavango-Ohangwena, Gobabis-Otjinene road, Oranjemund link road, Windhoek east-west bypass, improvement of TR1/6 between Brakwater and Okahandja feasibility studies.

Others are MR 44 Swakopmund-Cape Cross, provision of climbing lanes between Windhoek and Aris feasibility study, Gobabis-Aranos link road, future port facilities in Namibia pre-, Cape Frio, Mowe Bay fishing port, and northern railway extension feasibility studies.

Most of the projects mentioned above have been completed.

Good progress has been also made with the road construction projects forming part of the Trans-Caprivi Highway, which is a vital link along the Walvis Bay-Ndola-Lubumbashi development corridor.

The overall objective of the Trans-Caprivi Highway is to provide Namibia with an all-weather transport route eastwards to connect with the road networks of the landlocked countries of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Another important route between Walvis Bay harbour and Namibia’s neighbouring counties to the east, especially landlocked Botswana, is the Trans-Kalahari Highway.

Construction to asphalt standard was of utmost importance for providing a fast and comfortable road communication link. Trans-Kalahari highway, which forms part of the Walvis Bay-Botswana-Gauteng-Maputo development corridor, was officially opened to traffic in March 1998.

With the completion of the stretch through Botswana, its full benefits would begin to be realised. This road through Botswana has reduced the distance by road between Windhoek and the Gauteng province in South Africa by about 500 km.

And the two most important national arteries are the B1 and B2 highways. The B1 runs the whole length of Namibia from the town of Oshikango on Angolan border passing through the capital Windhoek to south at Noordoewer on the border with South Africa. The B2 is a 291 km highway that connects the main harbour of Walvis Bay and the capital Windhoek.

In 1998, Cabinet approved the national policy on labour-based works, a policy which seeks to expand the experience gained in road construction to as many sectors of the economy as possible.

The policy would contribute towards the ongoing national efforts of employment creation.

History of roads in Namibia

The history of transport is largely one of technological innovation. Advances in technology have allowed people to travel farther, explore more territory, and expand their influence over larger and larger areas.

Even in ancient times, new tools such as foot coverings lengthened the distances that could be travelled.

As new inventions and discoveries were applied to transport problems, travel time decreased while the ability to move more and larger loads increased.

Innovation continues as transport researchers are working to find new ways to reduce costs and increase transport efficiency.

Transport is vital to the well-functioning of economic activities and a key to ensuring social well-being and cohesion of populations. Transport ensures everyday mobility of people and is crucial to the production and distribution of goods.

Adequate infrastructure is a fundamental precondition for transport systems. In their endeavour to facilitate transport, however, decision makers in governments and international organisations face difficult challenges.

These include the existence of physical barriers or hindrances, such as insufficient or inadequate transport infrastructures, bottlenecks and missing links, as well as lack of funds to remove them. Solving these problems is not an easy task. It requires action on the part of the governments concerned, actions that are coordinated with other governments at regional and international level.

Before any optimised appropriate roads model for the independent Republic of Namibia can be developed, the history of roads in Namibia should be known.

The history of roads is divided into the precolonial era from approximately 1250 A.D. at which time the first archaeological evidence of human made roads exists, to 1884 when the German colonial power was established.

This period will be subdivided into four eras, firstly the prehistoric era from circa 1250 to circa 1770, secondly the era of the Orlams and the first Europeans from circa 1770 to 1840, thirdly the era of Jonker Afrikaner from circa 1840 to circa 1860, and finally the pre-German era from circa 1860 to 1884.

The period of the German administration from 1884 to 1915 will be subdivided into two sections – the initial and the consolidation eras of the German occupation.

The South African era will be subdivided into five periods, firstly from 1920 to 1937 (the roads function was taken over by the South West Africa administration’s works branch), secondly from 1937 to 1945 (the first professional roads staff was appointed), thirdly from 1945 to 1952 (a separate roads department was established), and then from 1952 to 1965, the beginning of the modern expansion of the Namibian roads system with the final period of the recent development.

The beginning of the era of the German occupation the country, in 1884, did not bring any new technological improvements to the transport infrastructures systems.

The ox-waggon still determined the design parameters for any road buildings activities, but from now on new transport infrastructures developments in Namibia were initiated by the requirements of the German forces.

Initially, this development seems to have been limited in its scope.

It has, however, to be borne in mind that this was before the advent of the pneumatic tyre, and the standards were in accordance with the minimum requirements of the rugged ox-wagon.

The transport infrastructures system in this time mirrors the beginning of the political and economic control of Namibia by the new colonial administration.

In the first twenty years this administration was not able to really achieve its objective, namely to create a German settlers colony.

Dr Moses Amweelo, former Namibia’s Minister of Works, Transport and Communication (2000-2005). He is currently a guest lecturer at the University of Namibia’s Engineering José Eduardo dos Santos Campus in Ongwediva. He holds a Doctorate in Industrial Engineering and Management from the International Transport Academy, Saint Petersburg, Russia

March 2017
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