The Head of State spoke Thursday at the United Nations Complex in Gigiri, Nairobi, during a high-level meeting attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who reminded participants that more than half of Africa’s people have to walk long distances.
Uhuru told Transport and Environment ministers new and robust thinking was needed to transform transport systems in Kenya and other African countries and make them efficient and environment-friendly.
“To realise Africa’s developmental aspirations, we need the active engagement of all stakeholders including governments, the private sector, academia and research institutions, financial institutions and civil society at large. Many of these stakeholders are participating in this conference– proof of our common desire to carry everyone along in our development journey,” he said.
He challenged participants to develop innovative technologies to bring down the cost of transport infrastructure, their operation and maintenance, as well as devise innovative ways to raise funds.
The high cost of transport infrastructure is one of the major barriers in Kenya and the continent, he added. He cited Kenya’s annuity-financing framework for road infrastructure development and maintenance that was recently adopted by the Government through which at least 10,000 kilometres of new tarmac roads are expected to be constructed in the next five years.
Under the model, contractors secure financing from commercial banks to build public roads, in what is seen as one of the main strategies to finance road construction in the country.
“The programme is promising: We expect to nearly double the paved road infrastructure in the country in the next few years.
“This model clearly shows the critical role the private sector can play in sustainable transport,” he explained.
Uhuru pointed out that for the sustainable transport strategy to be relevant and practical, it must be developed from bottom-up through engagement and consultation of people right from the grassroots.
“If the planning does not consult and engage our citizens, it cannot hope to be embraced and implemented by all. African solutions to African challenges is no mere slogan,” he said.
The UN chief noted that too many people in the continent lacked transport, including more than half of Africa’s people who have no other option than to walk long distances, at times in unsafe conditions, to work, school and hospitals.
He called for cleaner transport solutions that do not pollute the air and environment.
He cited the latest data from the World Health Organisation that revealed at least seven million people die every year globally due to air pollution, most of which originates from transportation.
He said the use of fossil fuels to drive vehicles is also driving harmful greenhouse gas emissions to new heights and accelerating climate change.
“The consequences of unsustainable and unhealthy transport systems are all the more unacceptable because we have solutions. Countries and cities around the world are showing how transport can be sustainable – providing cleaner air and health and economic benefits,” he said.
He argued a sustainable transport sector in the continent will sustain the ongoing rapid economic development of Africa, which he said was exhibiting dynamism and creating jobs.
He revealed that next week’s Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developed Countries, which will take place in Vienna, offers an opportunity to highlight the need for greater transport connectivity across Africa.
He indicated he has created a high-level advisory group on sustainable transport that is to provide recommendations on the action needed at the global, national and local levels.
UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner called on Kenya and other African countries to invest heavily in sustainable transport systems to unlock their socio-economic potential and improve the quality of life of their people.
He argued that too much focus on individualised transport may no longer be sustainable, owing to huge traffic jams and massive pollution of the air and environment.
He cited Kenya, in which the vehicle traffic is doubling every few years, making transport more challenging.
He called for green transport solutions within the larger context of green economy to make mobility of people and goods more efficient and less destructive to the environment.
“Unep (United Nations Environment Programme) is working with several African countries to assist them transit into a green economy. This will boost access and efficiency to transport, reduce costs of transportation and increase the quality of life of the people,” he said.