Ghana’s transport infrastructure has undergone significant upgrades over the course of recent years, boosting the country’s logistics, tourism and industrial capacity. Continued expansion of the industrial sector is a cornerstone of the government’s plans to revamp the economy in order to make it less dependent on commodities and tax revenue. Looking ahead, the efficient movement of both goods and people will therefore remain a policy priority.
Multiple transport infrastructure projects are either already under way or in the planning stages, and the authorities hope that this robust pipeline of developments will help Ghana take the next steps towards achieving its goal of becoming a regional gateway for both logistics and tourism.
Rural connectivity, however, remains an obstacle to achieving more equitable growth, due in large part to the absence or poor condition of roads in outlying areas of the country. Urban transport is also in need of expansion in response to population growth: as much as 60% of Accra’s public transport activity is serviced by informal minibus companies – a signal of the potential to develop formal public transport alternatives that can adequately serve the city’s growing population (see analysis).
The recently implemented Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Act of 2020 should help the government attract more investment in its strategic transport projects, particularly given Ghana’s increasingly attractive positioning following the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has connected 1.3bn people across 55 countries with a combined annual GDP of $3.4trn.
Oversight & Budget
Several ministries are responsible for the oversight of the transport sector. At the helm is the Ministry of Transport (MoT), which handles maritime affairs and is responsible for the formulation of the sector’s overarching policy framework. The Ministry of Aviation (MoA), the Ministry of Roads and Highways (MRH), and the Ministry of Railway Development (MRD) are responsible for the coordination of policy and development significant to their specific areas.
Oversight of the country’s urban transport is more complex and fragmented. The MoT, the MRH, and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development work alongside the National Road Safety Authority and the Ghana Police Service to establish policies and systems for urban transport, with numerous assemblies at the metropolitan, municipal and district level supporting their efforts.
The 2021 government budget included GHS658m ($112.5m) worth of allocations to the MoT, an increase of 63% from GHS403m ($68.9m) in 2020; close to GHS2bn ($341.8m) to the MRH, down 13% from the GHS2.3bn ($393.1m) recorded in 2020; and GHS513m ($87.7m) to the MRD, representing an 18% increase from the GHS435m ($74.3m) earmarked the previous year. These allocations reflect the government’s commitment to strengthen land and maritime transport, as well as logistics capabilities, in line with the wider economic transformation and infrastructure development agenda.
Performance & Size
Transport and storage activities contributed GHS26.1bn ($4.5bn) to GDP in 2020, or 7.2% of the total, according to figures from the Ghana Statistical Service. This was up from GHS23.5bn ($4bn), or 7.1% of GDP, in 2019. While this represented a 3.7% increase, it was a slowdown from the 4.3% expansion recorded by the sector in 2019. Indeed, the pace of expansion in the transport and storage sector has fluctuated in recent years, though the government hopes that the multiple transport infrastructure projects nearing completion – as well as the several others in the pipeline – will help to bolster transport GDP.
Roads & Bridges
Ghana’s road network spans some 78,402 km, according to a 2020 study carried out by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, with 49% either maintained or rehabilitated. Roads traditionally handle 96% and 97% of the country’s freight and passenger traffic, respectively, so they are vital to the government’s broader economic goals.
Maintenance and rehabilitation works were carried out on 25,048 km of trunk roads, 11,061 km of feeder roads and 5535 km of urban roads over the course of 2020, with 13 other major road projects in progress, according to the 2021 budget statement released by the Ministry of Finance.
Efforts to develop the country’s road network are continuing apace. In August 2021 the government approved $285m for 14 road rehabilitation and construction works, including the 24-km Osiem-Bogoro road, the 22-km Asuom-Subi–Kade road and the 30-km Anwiankwanta-Obuasi road.
Another major development was the July 2021 opening of the Pokuase interchange in Accra. Comprising four overlapping tiers and 10 km of new roads, the project is a cornerstone of the government’s continuing efforts to ease congestion in the capital. The African Development Bank provided $83.9m in funding for the project, while the government of Ghana contributed $11m. By improving mobility along the Accra-Kumasi motorway, the interchange is expected to reduce vehicle operating costs by as much as 37%, cut travel time between the two cities from two hours to 30 minutes, and reduce the incidence of road accidents by up to 40%.
Improved connectivity for rural areas is high on the government’s transport policy agenda, and the authorities have identified the need for more bridges to connect rural villages and towns with the main transport arteries (see analysis). A $100m loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency will help fund a 540-metre bridge across the Volta River. The project is a key component of the Eastern Corridor Road project and will ease the burden on existing bridges, many of which are old and unable to meet rising demand. The new bridge will also serve to bolster trade routes between Accra and Togo, which borders Ghana to the east.
A 2021 World Bank report on urban mobility in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale stressed the need for better coordinated policy-making and sizeable investment in order to ensure Ghana’s major cities act as engines for economic growth, rather than straining national finances. The report cites traffic congestion and the scarcity of formal, efficient public transport as causes of air pollution and major inhibitors of economic growth.
The challenges facing Ghana’s public transit networks exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic highlight the need for more hygienic, safe and affordable bus service. Currently, 60% of Accra’s public transport activity is serviced by “tro-tros” – informal, privately operated minibuses. The situation is increasingly unsustainable against the background of population growth: Metropolitan Accra’s population exceeded 2.5m in 2021, up 4.8% from 2017 (see analysis).
However, the relevant authorities are responding. In September 2021 Metro Mass Transit, the public bus operator, announced that it would receive a fleet of new buses by the end of the year, and a number of its older vehicles would be fixed and brought back into operation. Multiple new depots, terminals and stops will also be installed across the country, particularly in and around major cities. Despite these investments, there continue to be issues around modes of payment, routing and management. Both investors and citizens stand to benefit from integrated, efficient, multi-modal transport. Feasibility studies are under way for light rail transit in Accra and Kumasi, the latter of which is expected to cost $5.8bn, to be structured as PPPs.
Of the 1300 km of railway track installed before Ghana’s independence in 1957, 947 km remains operational. However, up to 60% of the network is not used regularly due to poor maintenance. In March 2021 President Nana Akufo-Addo announced the government’s plans to inject at least $2bn into current and future railway development projects and upgrades. President Akufo-Addo targeted 2023 for the completion of rehabilitation works on 300 km of existing narrow-gauge tracks and eight existing passenger stations. Another 10 new stations have also been earmarked for completion in the same time frame.
In addition to the $2bn in public funds pledged by the president, the government detailed plans in May 2021 for three priority rail projects, which it hopes will attract a total of $12.9bn private investment. These include a light rail train in Kumasi; the 672-km Central Spine Line, which will carry a capital expenditure of $3.3bn and help to unlock the economic potential of Ghana’s northern regions. “Improving transport links with the north of the country is an essential part of the development of Ghana,” Kojo Aduhene, CEO of Accra-based conglomerate LMI Holdings, told OBG. “With strong, cost-effective transport infrastructure, the north can industrialise and become as competitive as the south.”
The third priority rail project cited by the president is the 550-km, $3.8bn mixed-traffic Trans-ECOWAS Railway. These projects will be funded under PPP or build, operate, transfer (BOT) schemes through a combination of equity and debt.
Rail development plays a pivotal role in Ghana’s plans to strengthen its industrial and logistics capabilities, so many of the projects either under way or in the pipeline are strategically designed to provide freight and passenger corridors between Ghana and neighbouring countries, as well as to link Ghana’s key agriculture and mining areas to its two major sea ports in Tema and Takoradi.
The 2021 budget highlights as priority projects the completion of the Tema-Mpakadan section of the Ghana-Burkina Faso line, as well as the finalisation of procurement procedures for the Eastern Railway line from Tema to Kumasi, which is set to be connected with the planned Boankra Inland Port.
Total passenger throughput at Ghana’s airports in 2020 was around 1.1m, down from the approximately 2.8m passengers recorded in 2019 due to pandemic-induced curtailment in air travel, according to the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority. The third terminal of Kotoka International Airport – Ghana’s only international aviation terminal as of late 2021 – has a total capacity of 5m passengers per year and serviced 702,651 passengers in 2020, down from around 2.1m passengers in 2019.
Meanwhile, the second phase of the Tamale Airport expansion is set to conclude in 2022. In August 2021 government officials announced that work on phase three will be carried out simultaneously, and will see the main terminal – a key component of phase-two construction – expanded and various other facilities enhanced. Work on the airports in Tamale and Kumasi is designed to convert both into international airports. The realisation of this goal would boost the government’s aim of establishing Ghana as West Africa’s primary entry point.
Through its Aviation-Driven Development Agenda introduced in October 2020, the MoA is seeking investment in the form of a PPP or BOT that will improve the capacity and performance of the aviation sector. These projects include the upgrade of the West, Central, Upper East, Cape Coast, Takoradi and Yendi airports, as well as the second phase of the Sunyani Airport development.
Ghana has two major seaports. The first is in Tema, around 25 km east of Accra, and is focused on imports. The second, in Takoradi – around 230 km west of the capital – is geared towards exports. October 2021 marked the completion of the second phase of upgrades to the Port of Tema, which have nearly quadrupled its annual capacity from 1m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) to 3.7m TEUs.
The Port of Takoradi is also undergoing extensive upgrades that will raise its cargo capacity to 1m TEUs per year at a cost of $475m. The first phase, which began in 2019, accounts for $200m and involves the construction of both an on-dock container terminal and 600 metres of quay wall. The upgrades will allow the port to handle traffic that has been diverted from Tema, better support the oil and gas industry, and boost economic activity in and around Takoradi.
Elsewhere, feasibility studies were completed in November 2021 on the proposed construction of Ghana’s third commercial port in Keta, in the Volta Region. Based on their findings, the first phase is projected to cost around $600m. The construction of a new port would be a significant development in Ghana’s bid to become West Africa’s maritime gateway, allowing the country to harness its strategic location and leverage the AfCFTA.
The success of the government’s wider economic expansion plans hinges on the installation of modern, well-equipped transport networks. Ghana’s political stability, the implementation of more favourable PPP frameworks and the country’s comprehensive transport infrastructure expansion plans could prove to be decisive factors in attracting investment from international firms that are seeking to capitalise on the launch of the AfCFTA and the increased economic activity it is expected to stimulate over the longer term.
Inadequate rural-urban connectivity and insufficient urban transport remain major hindrances to broader economic growth, but the government’s recognition of this and its concerted efforts to remedying the underlying issues could see Ghana’s transport sector become a key component in attracting greater inflows of foreign direct investment, and in turn remodel the industry as an engine for broad-based economic expansion moving forwards.