Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Traffic Congestion in African Cities, Causes and Consequences

Andrew J. Galambos once said “A traffic jam is a collision between free enterprise and socialism. Free enterprise produces automobiles faster than socialism can build roads and road capacity.” Being caught up a traffic jam is the most annoying thing that can happen to anyone trying to catch up with an appointment or going home after a long and stressful day at work. Unfortunately for many African city dwellers, this is a challenge they face daily.

Traffic congestion is one of the main problem many African city dwellers face daily. This situation is usually worse in cities booming with economic activities. Such is the case in many cities like Douala; the commercial capital of Cameroon, Lagos in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana, Nairobi in Kenya and many others. These cities are home to millions of Africans and foreigners who live there for diverse reasons. Apart from the usual high cost of living and high crime wave in such cities, traffic congestion is another serious problem the people living in these cities have in common. They have to brave traffic jams almost on a daily basis while going about their various activities.


Bad roads. This is the main reason for traffic congestion in most African cities. Douala for example is the economic and commercial capital of Cameroon and Central Africa, its road infrastructure is inadequate and accommodate the total number and weight of vehicles in and around the city. The narrow or poorly paved roads are filled with potholes making it difficult to drive on. Drivers are forced to slow down as they manoeuvre their way around these potholes, trying as much as they can to protect their vehicles, causing serious traffic jams in the process.

Over population is another cause of traffic congestion. The economic cities of African countries are usually over populated.  There are over 2 million people in Douala, 3 million in Nairobi and over 22 million in Lagos; the largest city in Africa. With too many car owners, coupled with bad roads, driving in these cities    at some hours of the day (between 6:30 and 9 am and 4.30 and 9pm) is very tedious. These are the peak periods for congestion, as people are trying to get to work or back home. They usually have to seat in their cars for hours before movement resumes.

Indiscipline and reckless driving is another cause of traffic jams in many African cities. Reason being many road users are always in a hurry and nobody wants to let another driver go first. As a result of this fights and impatience, cars get stuck bonnet to trunk, or bonnet to bonnet without any means of reversing or driving pass.


Traffic congestion lowers productivity, which greatly affects the country’s economy. Traffic congestion is a major problem in many cities in Africa, especially those with economic activities because it is of utmost importance for circulation to be fluid. It is common place to see freight vehicles stuck in traffic, on their way to or from the port, warehouses or delivery points. These delays have a lot of negative effects on some economic activities, as products usually reach the markets late, those taken to the port for exportation may end being abandoned, in cases where freight reaches the port late. This mostly affect agricultural and perishable product. Blocked traffic also interferes with the passage of emergency and patrol vehicles travelling to the destinations where they are urgently needed.

In a bit to escape the traffic, and prevent delays which may result to disciplinary actions on workers or missed appointments,  most people (especially those who live far from their jobsites) leave their homes as early as 5am, in order to escape the hold down and be able to catch up with time. Unfortunately, some of these early risers end up being robbed, raped or killed by criminals.

Traffic congestions promotes road rage, as many drivers and riders easily get frustrated by the tight spacing and constant stopping-and-going. This is also the results of many accidents, cursing and fighting between drivers, riders and pedestrians, who easily get irritated by the discomfort.

Roads in many African cities are in dire need of maintenance, traffic and road signs. Narrow roads need to be expanded and new ones constructed, so as to be able to accommodate the growing number of African road users. This will go a long way to improve on the traffic congestion problem, and also increase productivity and foster economic growth.

AFRIC Éditorial Article.

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