Beyond bans: A political economy of used vehicle dependency in Africa
Keywords:used vehicles, African cities, auto-mobility, climate change, public transport, crashes, pollution, sustainability, Economic Development
African countries serve as used vehicle dumping sites for advanced capitalist countries, undermining global and local goals to move toward safe and low-emissions transport. Africa’s used vehicle dependency is commonly explained in terms of push-pull factors linked to demand for new cars and stringent environmental policies in wealthier countries that make available used vehicles for export, the limited purchasing power for less-polluting new safer vehicles, and weak regulation of vehicle emissions in Africa, all of which sustain used vehicle import on the continent. Drawing on the Ghanaian case, we present an enhanced explanation that brings in the role of historical underinvestment in public transport and larger processes that channel public resources toward car-oriented transport and land use, marginalizing other modes of transport used by the majority. Using historically informed political economy analyses and drawing on interviews and grey literature including media and institutional sources, this paper makes two contributions. First, it advances used vehicle research by moving beyond the push-pull approach to incorporate the historical institutional drivers of used vehicle and automobile consumption generally in Africa. Second, it provides insight into why used vehicle import bans on their own are unlikely to lead to sustained environmental and public health benefits and instead recommends more holistic policies for shifting toward cleaner, safer and affordable public transport in Africa. Transport and land-use planning reforms and investment prioritizing public transit including minibus recapitalization programs, as well as mixed land use and transit-oriented development can help reduce used vehicle dependency and the harms it brings.
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