Every Tuesday, Alemondji market in northern Togo swarms with people. Amid the throng, Burkinabe and Ghanaian traders offer clothes and kitchen utensils for sale. Others, calling out their wares, come from the nearby towns of Lawagnon, Moreta and Issati. Their stalls overflow with peanuts, millet, sorghum, sesame, and beans.
"Just a few years ago, it was no easy matter to travel to this market. It was open for three days in succession, Tuesday to Thursday, and then again on Sunday, but we only came for one day, because our main route to travel to the market was so poor," said Robiro Kadokah, a millet seller.
Her taxi from Issati now crosses the Alemondji bridge at a good speed. Located 200 kilometres (km) north of the Togolese capital Lomé, the bridge is a symbol of the opening-up of many of the region's agricultural communities.
"Before, when we travelled from Lawagnon, Moreta or Issati, we had to make a 50-kilometre detour before reaching the main road. Then, we could set off for Alemondji to go to the market. It all took two or three hours, and we were losing customers. Now, though, it only takes 10 or 15 minutes for us to get to the market place," the 50-year-old woman explained as she got out at the bus station.
Akilasso Magasso is a tax collector. He too has less to worry about than he used to. "We really were cut off from the rest of the world. Only a few motorcycles managed to make the journey along the muddy road to Alemondji. We have got our smiles back since this bridge was built," he said enthusiastically.
The 120-metre Alemondji bridge was built as part of the renovation of the roads on the CU9 corridor linking Lomé, Cinkansé, and Ouagadougou. The $325 million-project was 70% financed by the African Development Fund, the concessional funding arm of the African Development Bank, and by the Fragile States Facility.
Work was carried out on 150 km of road in Togo and a further 153 km in Burkina Faso. On the Togolese side, the Atakpamé-Blitta (102 km) and Blitta-Aouda (48 km) sections were renovated, 55 km of rural feeder roads were improved, and the Alemondji bridge was rebuilt.
Since the road rehabilitation, there has been an increase in traffic to and from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali to 2 million tonnes of goods per year since 2016. Travel times between the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou and the port of Lomé halved from six to three days between 2011 and 2016.
"All the conditions are right to make trouble-free journeys by both day and night. We are seeing many traders every week from neighbouring countries such as Ghana and Burkina Faso working at Alemondji market. This road and especially this bridge have revitalised our region," said Robiro Kadokah.
Besides the market, other important resources are more accessible, improving the quality of life for residents. For example, the Lawagnon Adult Training Institute for the Development of Fish Farming and the Order of Malta general hospital are all now reachable across the bridge.
"Patients are regularly sent to this hospital. They mostly come from the capital, Lomé. Now that the bridge has been restored, it is saving lives," Magasso said.
"This infrastructure ensures a flow of agricultural production and improved access to markets for inputs and products. Not only that, it stimulates the economy and facilitates the region's integration into the national and international economies," said Georges Bohoussou, the African Development Bank's Country Manager in Togo.
Bohoussou said the CU9 road project had put an end to the isolation of the agricultural communities of Gbécon and Morétan and had improved the supply of drinking water for 15 neighbouring villages. To improve women's incomes, the project also renovated and extended the international market at Anié and the weekly market at Doufio in northern Togo.