For Africa to reach its Agenda 2063 goals, the necessary infrastructure needs to be in place, especially to support Africa’s accelerated integration and growth, technological transformation, trade and development.
This will include high-speed railway networks, roads, shipping lines, sea and air transport, as well as well-developed information and communications technology structures and the digital economy.
It is anticipated in Agenda 2063 that a Pan-African high-speed train network will connect all the major cities and capitals of the continent with adjacent highways and pipelines for gas, oil, water and other infrastructure such as broadband cables.
However, a plenary panel at the Infrastructure Africa exhibition and conference, held this week in Sandton, discussed the challenges that had to be overcome before the agenda could be realised.
Leading the panel, Herbert Smith Freehills partner Brigette Baille said there were too many projects facing big funding gaps and delays and that it took a long time to reach financial close.
“Government can not solely be held responsible for infrastructure development; however, government does need to put enabling policies in place, especially in light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and soft infrastructure, which includes maintenance and routine upgrades.
“There is often more focus on ‘sexy infrastructure’ such as rail, port expansions, hydro plants and bridges; however, utility infrastructure such as schools, reticulation of electricity, water and sanitation is not prioritised enough in comparison,” noted Baille.
Panel member and Menston Holdings CEO Stanley Subramoney, meanwhile, remarked that infrastructure was one way of getting the growth of the economy going.
In South Africa, and in Africa, many projects are in concept or feasibility, but few are ‘shovel-ready’, he said, adding that a big make-or-break factor is how the stakeholders look at infrastructure holistically and not in a silo, in terms of implementation and impact.
Subramoney further pointed out that Africa is rich, but Africans are poor. “It is expensive to do business in Africa, owing to poor or a lack of infrastructure, which also impacts on global competitiveness.”
He said Africa tended to export its wealth and import poverty. “All roads in the continent lead to the port. We are exporting commodities and importing finished product, therefore exporting our jobs and becoming increasingly de-industrialised.”
Subramoney said project development in Africa required smart partnerships with players that actively add value to projects; it also required blended funding, for example, from development financial institutions, commercial funding, pension funding and government investment, while ensuring the infrastructure is relevant for the twenty-first century and beyond, without building vanity projects.
“If we do not pay mind to this to realise functional projects, the continent will become irrelevant; and no one owes Africa any favours, we need to do it for ourselves and future generations.”
Sierra Leone Presidential Infrastructure Initiative chairperson Dr John Tambi noted that infrastructure was not limited to hard infrastructure such as road and rail, and emphasised the need for soft infrastructure systems.
“In Africa, maintenance of existing facilities and trying to sustain them has been a challenge. Without a maintenance regime, assets can not be maximised.”
He added that infrastructure needed to be considered as a business and that projects needed to be structured to become a source of revenue for the country and benefit society, with investors and strategic partners involved from the get-go of project planning, as with a business.
UK Department of International Trade Africa trade commissioner Emma Wade-Smith averred that projects should focus on partnerships, processes and understanding risk.
“Problems with the process sees more expensive projects, project delays and corruption. Getting this right can address challenges that are often found with infrastructure projects.”
Public Investment Corporation (PIC) senior research analyst Brenton Lalu commented that infrastructure projects were not just about financial return, but also about social return. The PIC has a dual mandate to invest in economic infrastructure such as telecoms, road and rail, while social infrastructure investment provides access to housing, education and healthcare, to improve quality of life, create jobs and stimulate skills transfer.
He said infrastructure was the backbone of any country’s economy and had a ripple effect to open up markets, accelerate industrialisation and unlock manufacturing. He suggested that there should be harmonisation between countries to ultimately realise Agenda 2063.