The government of Ethiopia plans to overhaul part of the country’s roads infrastructure following the approval of a financing agreement with the African Development Bank (AfDB)

Around 220 kilometres of roads will be upgraded to “all-weather high standard asphalt roads” under the terms of the loan-and-grant-deal amounting to a total of nearly $90 million, according to Ethiopian business news website 2Merkato.

The report said 65% of the sum is being advanced in the form of a grant, to directly connect Jimma and Sodo in the country’s southwest and further connect the southern regional town of Sawla to the main trunk road network, linking the local populations to Addis Ababa city and the rest of the country.

Navjeet Virk of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said, “In a country which is five times the size of the UK but lacks any major rail network, roads are vital to supporting the growth of Ethiopia’s economy, which has averaged 10.8% yearly growth since 2005.”

Virk said, “The African Development Bank’s financial involvement in this expansion project showcases its continued commitment to improving transport infrastructure development in Africa. This investment also marks another phase in Ethiopia’s commitment to upgrading its road network and follows recent projects such as the Modjo to Hawassa Expressway which broke ground in early 2016.”

The Jimma-Sodo-Sawla project forms part of the first phase of the Ethiopia Integrated Transport Program to be carried out by the Ethiopian Roads Authority.

According to the AfDB, the direct beneficiaries of the project “will include small holder farmers, traders, agro-businesses, transporters, women entrepreneurs, mothers, transport sector experts and others”.

The main economic activity in the region is small holder and mixed crop / livestock, the AfDB said. “New sugar factories are under construction south of Sawla and a coal mine to be exploited by cement manufactures may be developed along the project road. The project influence area is not well connected with roads to Addis Ababa, the economic center of Ethiopia and needs improved road network to ease transport and enhance exploitation of the area’s potential.”

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Ethiopia’s transport sector “needs skills to modernise the network and management systems while the facilities for road safety emergency response require improvements”, the AfDB said. “At regional level, the road links the west of the country directly to the Addis Ababa-Nairobi transport corridor, removing the need for south-bound travelers to first go north to Addis Ababa and then south to Moyale, for trade with the Kenya and rest of East Africa.”

In a report published last December, the World Bank said ongoing investments in Ethiopia’s power and transport infrastructure are expected to help boost future growth and exports, despite the impact on the country of “the worst drought in 50 years”.

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