There were highly developed transport networks in many parts of Africa in precolonial times, and, during the colonial era that followed, these networks were restructured to penetrate into the interior from the seaports and, in the main, to serve the commercial and administrative needs of the colonial powers. Their fragmentation, which led to interregional links being but thinly developed, resulted from the juxtaposition of varied and difficult terrains, the economic artificiality of certain national frontiers, the lack of a developed intra-African trade, and the strong orientation of commodity trade with the administering countries. All of this was further complicated by the existence of vast unpopulated areas lying between the main centers.
The emergence in the 1960s of independent African governments who recognized the need to lift economies from their generally very low levels and, above all, to develop agriculture and embark on industrialization heralded improvements in economic planning, the development of transport networks, and the introduction of cheaper freight rates. But there remained a serious shortage of qualified African labor to plan and manage transport systems at the national or multinational level and, simultaneously, to keep up with the rapid development of transport technology outside Africa.