Africa : Roads For All

Creating dedicated lanes or pathways for non-motorised travellers could free up their time and boost their level of economic activities, says Susan Gichuna, who earned her MA in developmental studies at the University of Nairobi with a dissertation on the travel choices made by informal workers.

These metalworkers – known as ‘jua kali’ because they work ‘under the hot sun’ – are not formally employed, echoing the situation of many a South African – beyond the full-time employee, a large swathe of the economy is powered by under-the-radar workers who run spaza shops, take orders for hand-sewn clothing or do piece work.

And these people fall under the radar when it comes to transport, too, says Gichuna. She was speaking at a session on Urban Transport: Policy and Planning, convened by Professor Roger Behrens of the University of Cape Town. For her research, Gichuna asked some simple questions which nevertheless seldom get asked: do unemployed (in the sense of formal employment) people travel much? Why do they travel? And what kind of travel choices do they make – and why?

She found that the informal metalworkers do have specific workplaces, to which they may travel quite a distance – between four and eleven kilometres.  They also travel to source raw materials for their work, an average distance of ten kilometres. And in addition, while some have customers who purchase at their place of work, more than a third take telephone orders, and this means they have to deliver the finished product, which two thirds do by means of a parcel, the remainder deliver by hand. And when they deliver by hand, they use a mkokoteni – a little handcart – to haul the product along.

On top of these trips, the jua kali also, of course, travel for other reasons – to attend clubs(something vaguely similar to our stokvels), to visit friends and relatives, to shop and for recreation. On average, Gichuna found, they make close on three trips a day. Much of their travel uses the matatu – privately owned minibuses, like our taxis – but a huge amount is done on shank’s pony, on foot, whether with or without a handcart.

And their major issue is a lack of facilities for them to walk comfortably and safely – there’s no or only partial paving – and this translates into an unsafe, uncomfortable and time-consuming trip.

Aside from town planning that sites affordable housing for informal workers in places that are closer to their work or raw material sources, the provision of specific, dedicated ‘lanes’ that allow for non-motorised transport should be incorporated into local authorities’ plans, Gichuna suggests – and South Africa could surely draw valuable lessons from the research done in Kenya.

The Southern African Transport Conference took place from Monday 8 – Thursday 11 July at the CSIR International Convention Centre Pretoria, South Africa. For more information : This year’s theme – Transport and Sustainable Infrastructure.