17 June 2018
A strong, if not pervasive, theme on infrastructure in Africa is one of minimal existence, or lack of infrastructure.
Reference is often made to the age and decay of infrastructure. For example, it is highlighted that many railway lines in Africa were built over a century ago. This theme of ‘lack’ is reinforced regularly in various fora.
This generalised portrayal masks the incremental grind and profound progress made in providing infrastructure across Africa, with successful projects such as the Ethiopia–Djibouti Railway built at $3 billion (Sh300bn) and Nigeria’s intercity, railway, costing about $ 1 billion (Sh100bn).
Nonetheless, I recognise that the infrastructure gap in Africa exists. Many do not have access to electricity, water, roads, name it. Highlighting this, the African Development Bank projects that Africa requires $60-90bn (Sh6-9 trillion) annually, to have universal electricity access by 2025.
Similarly, the World Bank estimates that Africa needs $ 93b, yearly, to address infrastructure gaps. These amounts are indicative of the resources and commitment required.
I am also aware that strained economic conditions in many countries.
My point, however, is that things have never stood still, and that the theme of ‘lack’ is only one side of a shrinking story. An expanding side of the story is my first-hand experience of many transformative and landmark projects in the last decade, across Africa.
Take the transport sector, where modern airports or extensions have been built in Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria among other countries.
The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with capacity to generate an estimated 1,200MW of electricity, at a cost of about US$5bn on completion, will be the largest hydro-electric dam in Africa.
Anytime I visit Maputo, I am always enamoured by the Katembe Bridge, a part of the $700 million Ponto de Ouro–Bela Vista–Boane project, the longest suspension bridge currently under construction in Africa.
Deloitte Africa’s 2016 Construction Trends Report states that, as at 2016, there were 286 ongoing construction projects across Africa, at a cumulative value of US$324 billion (Sh33 trillion).
In 2017, as a panellist at the Africa–France Economic Forum, in Mali, I made a case for redefining the narrative on African infrastructure, from being in a permanent dire state to incremental progress; from helplessness to hopefulness; and from deficit to surfeit over time.
Private sector funding for infrastructure projects has risen, with governments increasingly raising funds from banks and capital markets to finance projects across Africa.
We must therefore, acknowledge the incremental and transformational work being done, while demanding more accountability in governance with measurable performance indicators.
This is critical, as governance is an entrusted responsibility, and must be taken very seriously by holders.
Banks, development financial institutions and other stakeholders, have to take up the challenge, moving from plans to actions, supporting initiatives and projects that transform lives.