A transportation lesson from Morocco

Bitange Ndemo

No matter how much a fly can be a bother, you do not always have to use a hammer to kill it. But wait a minute – there are times when you need to do exactly that. Nothing illustrates this better than the North African state of Morocco, which I visited recently.

Moroccans may have used a hammer to deal with their infrastructure challenges. With a population of 35 million, the country has developed its land, sea and air transport sectors comprehensively.

The airports and seaports are modern and efficient, and its commuter rail system can compete with the best in European cities.

It also has an intricate road network that boasts of hundreds of kilometres dual-carriage highways, flyovers and bridges. This can only result in further economic progress on its way to achieving full economic potential.

As we drove around the cities of Casablanca and Rabat, our driver, Abdellah Aziz, told us that his country is pouring billions of dollars into the country’s infrastructure, ranging from rapid urban mass transportation systems to marine transport.


The country wants to become a world player in marine transport, and thereby expand its tourist products. The smooth highway we are driving on is one among many that connect the country’s 10 biggest cities. There are 15 international airports in Morocco.

“You must visit Tangiers,” he said. He wanted us to see the high-speed train connecting the coastal cities of Casablanca and Tangiers.

A high speed train anywhere in Africa is quite a rarity, and goes to show the seriousness with which Morocco is taking infrastructural development.

The country spent $16.3 billion (Sh1.6 trillion) between 2007 and 2012 to develop the combined port and industrial complex of the Tanger-Med, including the construction of a high speed rail network.

There is also a wide network of economic activities zones such as integrated industrial platforms, special economic zones, and ICT parks that we visited, not to mention other industrial clusters that have been built. Marrakech Health Care City project, launched in 2012, targets medical tourists.

The country says in a recent report that it plans to improve and expand the existing highway system and expand the Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport. Morocco’s transport sector is the most dynamic in a turbulent region, and will remain so for years to come.

Kenya’s neighbour to the North, Ethiopia, is following the Morocco strategy, too. The country is sparing no effort to develop its infrastructure. It has built a sophisticated mass transport system in Addis Ababa, one of a kind in Africa.

The building of a highway networks is under way. Several industrial clusters have been built. Construction of the $5 billion (Sh490 billion) 6,000MW electricity plant for both domestic use and exports to Kenya will make Ethiopia a powerhouse in Africa. This capacity has been funded entirely by the Ethiopians, locally and from the diaspora.

The Omo basin is also being used to produce sugar more productively for local consumption and exports to Kenya where we have refused to understand the economics of sugar.

The upshot is that the Ethiopian economy, already growing at double digits, is among the fastest growing in the world.

In creating Vision 2030, Kenya had the right dreams, although we are yet to throw everything we got into the fight against poor infrastructure.

There is great opportunity in comprehensively solving our transportation problem using the hammer metaphor, just as these other African countries have done.

In so doing, we shall expand and unlock our economic potential which lies unexploited and, more importantly, create much needed jobs.

Kenya’s per capita income lies between that of Ethiopia and Morocco but these two countries are heavily investing in their infrastructure and expanding economic opportunity.

In Kenya we have politicised economic development to the extent that an idler somewhere can stop a mega project in the name of democratic rights.

When you read through some of these countries’ reports, they read like Kenya’s Vision 2030 but the only difference is that they implemented their vision while we did not take our dreams forward.

The Lamu port and industrial park, Konza Technopolis, the standard gauge railway as well at the Isiolo tourist city, mired in bureaucratic lethargy, lawsuits, and politics, are cases in point.

The common denominator in Morocco and Ethiopia is the courage to take risks in advancing their countries. We are too reticent.

We have failed to invest in marine transport systems to expand our tourist offering.

We pause to admire Thika Highway when we should be demanding a wider coverage of highways, especially where the greater population is concentrated, and connecting every major city and town.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s Business School.