One of the most frustrating problems we face in Africa is the lack of tangible investment or re-investment in infrastructure, particularly felt in the sub-standard network of roads and tracks that link its countries. In some countries, it is not uncommon to come across potholes the size of which could quite comfortably accommodate a fully-grown goat. Not only does one experience the frustration of having to navigate these minefields of craters for fear of destroying your vehicle’s undercarriage, but also more importantly, the poor condition of the roads slows business down. Distribution logistics become a nightmare and sales and other networking trips become arduous experiences and probably take 50% longer than they should have in the first place, thus incurring extra costs for the businesses in question.

A civil engineer friend of mine explained a good road’s four layers, all necessary for a robust and long-lasting road surface, after the sub-grade (exposed excavated ground) formation has been capped to seal it:

  • Sub-base – this is laid as soon as possible after final stripping to formation level, to prevent damage from rain or sun-baking which could cause surface cracks, thus preventing ingress of moisture
  • Base course – usually a plant manufactured granular aggregate. It must be laid and compacted quickly
  • Binder course – this helps distribute the load of traffic above onto the base course, which is usually a weaker material. It also provides a flat surface onto which the normally thinner surface course is laid
  • Surface course – this is laid in a wide range of bituminous materials, ranging in thickness from 20 to 40mm. The material selected is dependent on the anticipated traffic intensity. The surface course also seals the road from the penetration of water, the same of which damages the road

As I thought through his explanation, I became aware of the similarities between the preciseness of constructing a road for vehicles to a human road for success, with the following points:

  • Planning the road – a vision for future town/city development, traffic needs and spatial development is needed before money is budgeted and subsequently allocated to any project by local or national government. Having a vision and plan for one’s future state is an essential first step towards success.
  • Scoping the project – environmental impact assessments get made, surveying is executed and consideration is given to context sensitive solutions. If I am to achieve my vision, do I have all the necessary resources and family/network buy-in in order for me to reach my goals? Are my support structures in place?
  • Designing the road – here, the detailed design is created, including any necessary bridges, removal of obstacles and earthworks. Am I fully aware of any barriers and detours I may have to overcome in my journey to success? Am I able to put together a planned process to assist me in achieving my goals or do I need to get help with the plan?
  • Construction of the road – once money has been allocated to the project, earth-moving machinery removes obstacles and grades the surface to sub-grade formation, after which the various layers as above get placed. What do I need to remove in my life that might hinder my success? Do I need further education or “on-the-job” training to make progress? What “layers” do I need to put in place to lead me to a place of success? I now need to action all of these things.
  • Finessing the road – this includes painting the lines and placing appropriate signage along the way. How can I improve what I have already constructed for myself? Is there anything further that I can do to make what I have achieved more sustainable?
  • Maintaining the road – this involves monitoring and evaluating the road surface from time to time to ensure that the road is holding up under traffic pressure and that no cracks are appearing. Repairs are made where necessary. To maintain success, one needs feedback and evaluation to assist in “tweaking” one’s efforts, being relevant and keeping up with the latest technology.

The road to success is difficult to construct – with a strong sense of purpose, a good dose of focused energy and usually advice from a network of “experts” at various points, this hoped-for success becomes a real possibility. It will certainly require dedication to the cause of the project and an inspiring vision of a compelling end product to carry you through the tough times that lie ahead. Intentionally construct your road to success.

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