Move It on Over


Ghana's transport sector is undergoing a major overhaul, with the public-private model being utilized across various modes.

The vast majority of passenger and cargo traffic in Ghana is carried by road, as with many of its West African neighbors. The national road network is consequently crucial to the country, however, undeveloped or non-existent connections are having a restrictive effect on economic growth. Over 60,000km of roads criss-cross the country and its cities, and the government is working hard to rehabilitate sections that have degenerated and construct new links. This is largely being done in collaboration with the private sector, and it is expected that many of the existing highways will have tollbooths installed in order to pay for their upkeep. In 2015, 67km of trunk roads and 25km of urban roads were developed, while it is expected that in 2016, around 200km of trunk roads and 40km of urban roads will be completed. Important projects reached completion in 2015, such as the first phase of the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange and the Buipe-Tamale road, with others nearing completion, like the Awoshie-Anyaa Road Project and the Fufulso-Sawla road. The Ministry also completed scheduled maintenance on just under 6,000km of urban roads, and over 7,000km of both feeder and trunk roads. The number of such works being undertaken in 2016 will be significantly higher. Many of these infrastructure investments have been supported by the World Bank, which began to implement its Transport Sector Project for Ghana in 2009. This program ended in 2015, and has been an important driver for road improvements over the past five years. In addition, the project led to the introduction of various regulatory changes, such as restrictions on truck cargo loads and other practices that erode paving.

Inter-city passenger transport is gradually shifting toward the use of larger buses instead of the minibuses that have served as the primary method of transport for decades. Despite generally low-density traffic outside of urban areas, consumers are choosing these better quality coaches. Demand is so high that Intercity STC Coaches, the dominant force in the segment, increased its fleet size in early 2015 from 36 buses to 81. In addition, 100 minivans were also introduced to cover destinations outside of the coach network’s area of operations. Around 60% of passengers travel by bus, with the rest opting for private vehicles or taxis.
Ghana’s rail network lay long neglected, but since the foundation of the Ghana Railway Development Authority (GRDA) in 2008 as part of the Railway Act, major changes are underway. The entire system is being refurbished at present. Though the projects were given an estimated completion date of 2016, it is likely that some will extend beyond the year. The challenges of ensuring investment, both for the construction of these new lines and the improvement of rail stock, remain obstacles to the timely completion of these projects.

The GDRA’s master plan envisages multiple expansions to these lines, starting from an international connection to the Ivory Coast from Prestea. Additional enlargements will involve links from Awaso to Hamile in western Ghana, a line connecting Sekondi/Takoradi to Winneba, Accra, and Cape Coast, and a route to Togo via Akosombo in the Volta region. A further cross-country line from Sunyani to Kumasi is also planned, along with other regional railways. Suburban lines in the capital and its neighboring urban areas of Tema and Nsawam are also to be restored.

The existing network comprises three main lines, the first linking Takoradi to Kumasi. The line linking Kumasi and the capital, Accra, was the next to be built followed by the central line from Huni Valley to Kotoku. In sum, the country’s rail system forms a triangle of over 950km of tracks. Ghana’s agricultural regions are connected to the main ports of Tema and Takoradi by these lines, transporting the country’s primary exports, such as cocoa and timber for international shipping.

Ghana’s maritime sector is also experiencing a major transformation. Activities in this area are regulated and coordinated by the Ghana Maritime Authority, established in 2002. The two main ports at Tema and Takoradi are being expanded to deal with demand from a rise in imports and exports, and a trend of high cargo volumes across African ports in general. The former is the largest in the nation, and is situated on 3.9 million sqm in the east of the country. Over 1,600 vessels call to the port each year. The latter is located between Accra and Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, and handles approximately one-third of the nation’s sea traffic. It also deals with energy exports as a result of its location near Ghana’s oil reserves.

The Tema facility is receiving a $1.5 billion investment that will see a new facility installed next to the existing port, capable of handling up to 3.5 million TEUs of cargo. A parallel road project, costing a further $200-300 million, will allow trucks to transport freight from the port to Accra, a well-established route through which the bulk of the country’s trade passes. The development will be delivered by APM terminals, the Dutch container handling conglomerate. Takoradi port is also being refurbished, with an oil services terminal and additional bulk terminals to be added, while the access channel will be further deepened to 16 meters.

A unique feature of Ghana’s maritime sector is the traffic on Lake Volta, a man-made body of water created by the damming of the river at Akosombo. With occasionally excessive transport costs for both road and rail options, the use of the waterway offers a distinctive advantage for moving freight, particularly for landlocked countries in the Sahel north of Ghana. The Volta Lake Transport Company (VLTC) oversees a number of barges which transport both general and liquid cargo. Construction and energy materials, particularly diesel, are moved north to Buipe, while agricultural exports such as cassava and cotton from different regions in the north of the country are carried down river to Akosombo before being brought to the main ports for export.
Operating out of Kotoka International Airport in Accra, numerous international carriers are based in Ghana’s capital, providing regional and intercontinental flights. Aiming to become West Africa’s aviation gateway, the airport is already the option of choice in the region. With a total of 24,871 aircraft movements in 2014, carrying 1.65 million passengers and over 54,000 tons of cargo, Accra’s strategic location and strong regulatory framework ensures its continued success compared with the airports of neighboring countries’ capitals. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted “Category 1″ status to the facility, the highest possible status in terms of safety, a key consideration for transit passengers. It shares this label with only five other airports on the continent.

Major changes since the mid-1990s have helped to renew the airport. The runway was extended, while more recently, an area known as Airport City has been developed in the area surrounding the airport. The once empty area is now home to hotels, banks, as well as retail and commercial spaces. Additional infrastructure improvements are still underway, with a loan of $120 million from the African Development Bank to be used to fund Ghana Airports Company Limited’s investment scheme. The building of a brand-new terminal at Kotoka airport will represent the main part of the program, with construction having begun in 2015 and expected to be completed by late 2016. The terminal will have a capacity of up to 5 million passengers per year, and will mark an important step toward the advancement of Ghana’s aviation industry. A separate renovation of the airport at Tamale is also envisaged to reach completion within a similar time frame, as will developments at the airports of Kumasi, Ho, and Wa. Commercial banks and other financing sources will account for the remainder of the funding requirements.

In spite of the challenges facing the Ghanaian transport sector, the government’s clear commitment to improving the network across all segments, in cooperation with private entities, suggests a positive outlook in the short term. This depends on the country’s economic fortunes over the course of 2016, and on a trouble-free electoral process, but the precedents set over recent years indicate a stable advancement of policy is the most likely outcome.

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