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 forums. This generalized 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 US$ 3 billion and Nigeria’s intercity, railway, costing about US$ 1 billion.
Nonetheless, I recognize that the infrastructure gap in Africa exists. Many do not have access to electricity, water, roads etc. Highlighting this, the African Development Bank projects that Africa requires US$ 60 billion–90 billion annually, to have universal electricity access by 2025. Similarly, the World Bank estimates that Africa needs US$ 93 billion, 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, and falling commodity prices, have weakened their capacity to embark on new or even sustain some existing projects, leading to suspension of others.
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. Cameroon has built a deep water port, while plans for the same are underway in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania among other countries.
The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with capacity to generate, an estimated 1,200MW of electricity, at a cost of about US$ 5 billion 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 US$ 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.
In 2017, as a panelist 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. This has to be so, given that the nature of progress made is resolute and unending.
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 acknowledge the incremental and transformational work being done, while demanding more accountability in governance with measurable performance measures. 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, while building local capacity for autonomous self-propulsion.
In building Africa, there is need to focus on connective cross-border infrastructure that will facilitate regional economic integration.
African governments must deploy resources and use their convening power to mobilize people behind overarching goals; make appropriate policies; initiate and direct action; pull in key private sector players and other stakeholders while leveraging on existing resources across sectors, to create modern states.
As infrastructure challenges are identified, confronted and resources harnessed, there is a collective responsibility to do more to meet growing expectations of African citizens of the 21st century. Therein lies the challenge and opportunity – two immutable sides of the coin for African development.
The theme of discernible progress is representative of the state of African infrastructure today. It is also affirmative as it acknowledges extant infrastructure deficits in a context of dynamic, steady and incremental growth. But critically, places responsibility on actions to be taken for further progress.
Emeke E. Iweriebor is the CEO, East & Southern Africa, United Bank for Africa.
LinkedIn: Emeke E Iweriebor