Friday, October 20, 2006

Collapsing bridge, collapsing state

The UN's IRIN news service reports on the August collapse of a bridge on the main road linking the key southeastern Guinean city of N'Zérékoré with most of the rest of the country. The bridge must've been fairly new since it wasn't there when I lived in the country a decade ago.

For many observers, the bridge collapse is a metaphor for the steadily deteroriating Guinean economy, sclerotic state and shambolic infrasturcture.

The effect on ordinary Guineans is quite real.

Since the collapse of the bridge, the cost of a ticket on one of the dilapidated yellow minibuses that plies the route between Conakry and Nzerekore has jumped from US $27 to US $36, while the journey time has quadrupled from 24 hours to four days.

And not just on travelers.

The rise in transport costs has had a knock-on impact on the getting kids into schools. The cost of school desks which are made near Nzerekore and distributed throughout Guinea has more than doubled since the bridge collapse from US $12.50 to $27, a roughly equivalent to the monthly salary of a school headmaster in Guinea.

When I lived in Guinea, there was no shortage of construction projects. Roads, water pumps, health centers, schools. But I noticed that these structures were poorly maintained if at all after they were built. Poor infrastructure maintenance is clearly one of the biggest barriers to development in the country But that's what happens when everything is handed to a corrupt regime on a silver platter by foreign donors with no expectations: the regime lives down to those expectations.

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