Development corridors are focal points for national and international development investment in East Africa, and national governments are directing their limited public sector resources towards corridor development.

This research provides critical analysis of development corridors as a mechanism for delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The authors identify three distinct ‘imaginaries’ – or representations of perspectives – of development corridors that exist among development actors, across five development corridors in East Africa. These imaginaries articulate shared understandings of the ways in which corridors are likely to either support or limit achievement of the SDGs by 2030.

The analysis suggests that the SDGs and their targets mostly create conditions that aid the achievement of each other within development corridors. The analysis also identifies specific clusters of goals and targets that stakeholders consider to be directly mutually reinforcing and which, strengthened in parallel, could upscale development within corridors.

However, the authors also find that, in current corridor trajectories, progress towards some SDGs is likely to directly threaten progress towards other goals and targets, causing trade-offs between some goals and other development gains. This analysis suggests that the five East African corridors, explored within this research, are not on track to achieve the Agenda 2030 pledge to ‘leave no one behind’.

The authors signal priority areas for investment, policy reorientation and strengthened safeguards, to maximise positive SDG interactions and minimise negative ones. The research emphasises the need for more integrated corridor governance if the SDGs are to be achieved efficiently, and as a whole, and the authors suggest ways to enhance policy coherence across often siloed sectors.

Key points for decision-makers

  • Development corridors are generally mobilised around objectives of developing hard infrastructure, alongside broader interventions designed to foster an enabling environment for private enterprise, within a determined geographic area.
  • Given the extensive financial and political resources being diverted to corridor implementation, it is essential that development corridors support the realisation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets.
  • However, development corridors typically evolve with sub-optimal strategic oversight and monitoring, such that the kind of development that is being realised through corridors – and for whom – has been poorly understood.
  • The analysis is focused on Kenya and Tanzania as two countries where development corridors have taken a central role in national development plans.
  • In the research, development corridor actors (e.g. policymakers and technical and implementing officers) were asked to construct a representation of their perspective on which development objectives are most – and least – likely to be achieved through corridors, by the year 2030 (to align with the Agenda 2030 time horizon).
  • The authors identify a cluster of goals and targets that appear supportive of the development of broader business enabling conditions, to aid the integration of small-scale farmers into value chains in corridors. Harnessing these synergies may offer a means of overcoming some of the key risks – that corridors remain merely ‘transport corridors’ that fail to benefit local communities, or even further disenfranchise them.  
  • The research found that progress on some SDGs is likely to threaten progress elsewhere, particularly in the cases of goals and targets linked to biodiversity conservation (SDG14/SDG15), sustainability (SDG11, SDG12, SDG13), secure and equal access to land (SDG2.3) and inequality reduction (SDG10). However, research participants did not view any of the SDGs to be fundamentally incompatible. Instead, these interactions signal priority areas for policy reorientation, and where new or strengthened safeguards are required, to maximise positive SDG interactions and minimise negative ones.
  • The findings emphasise the need for more integrated approaches to corridor governance if the SDGs are to be achieved efficiently, and as a whole. The authors suggest ways to enhance policy coherence in corridors, across often siloed sectors, such as through development of overarching corridor strategies, enhanced SDG monitoring and allocation of specific budgets for cross-sectoral coordination in corridors.
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