Develop Infrastructure to Develop Africa

Published on 2nd August 2005

As Africa struggles to get rid of her stinking problems such as unemployment and poverty, there is need to rethink of infrastructure. Infrastructure – roads, railway, electricity, waterways and air among others directly correlate with development. Their development and maintenance is key to rapid economic growth and poverty reduction. Production costs, employment creation, access to markets and investment depend on the quality of infrastructure. A poor transport system acts as a “non-tariff barrier.” 

Development theorists have in many cases labeled Africa as the “periphery” while developed countries have been regarded to as the “core or center.” What really makes Africa lag in terms of development? Why are most famines and poverty witnessed in Africa yet agriculture is viewed as the backbone of the economy? Do we still see hope for Africa? Some commentators and in particular development analysts in Africa and elsewhere blame the continents troubles to a myriad of problems; with some faulting the Western countries for under developing Africa. Intra African problems are also to blame for the continents poor state of development.

One of Africa’s challenges to rapid growth and development is poor infrastructure. Most of the present day transportation systems were designed with colonial objectives in mind. They were built to facilitate effective colonial administration and efficient economic exploitation. To achieve export oriented objectives of the colonial governments, they connected coastal areas and ports to important sources of raw materials and agricultural production but offered little opportunity for internal circulation of goods or people. Infrastructure in most African countries has not changed much. After independence most African governments recognized the need to build infrastructure as a preliquisite to increased intra-Africa trade. They embarked on ambitious projects such as the trans-African highways; part of which would stretch from Cairo to Dakar, Tripoli to Windhoek and Lagos to Mombasa. This would provide access to 15 landlocked countries and improve regional lings. A real regional African road system does not exist yet and a large number of national and sub regional road networks are not coordinated effectively. Most of African countries have not only invested little in infrastructure development but also in its maintenance.  Crude estimates indicate that $18-25 billion per year is required to provide adequate infrastructure in Africa. However, the continent only invests about $5 billion annually.

To date, most countries in Africa have poor infrastructure and this has a negative impact on the continent’s development. On energy for example, Africa which constitutes about 13% of the World’s population consumes only 3% of global commercial energy. By 1991 only 22% of Africa’s households were connected to electricity. Lack of energy (electricity) is a major disincentive to many who would be investors especially in the rural areas.  Many African countries also face huge transport costs in accessing the global market. For instance, transport and insurance payments as a percentage of the value of exports is 55.5% in Malawi, 51.8% in Chad, 48.4% in Rwanda, 35.6% in Mali and 35.5% in Uganda. These costs significantly affect the county’s value of income from exports. Poor infrastructure makes the costs of transporting goods in Africa among the highest in the world. This makes African goods less competitive. World Bank studies show that a 10% drop in transport costs could result in a 25% increase in total African trade. Only about 25% of the decline in Africa’s share of world exports can be attributed to poor prices, the rest is due to non-price factors such as infrastructure.

By 1996, Africa had approximately 311,184Kms of paved roads, half of them in pitiable conditions. Except in Mauritius, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, paved roads in Africa account for less than 50% of the road network. In sub-Saharan Africa, paved roads account for less than 17%. Generally road density per Km2 is lower than those of Asia and Latin America.  The 80% of the unpaved main roads in Africa are also in poor conditions with most of them easily accessed during the dry seasons. In Ethiopia, 70% of the population has no access to all weather roads.  In many countries roads are concentrated in urban areas or around coastal ports. Few roads link neighboring countries in regional terms. Generally Africa lags behind the rest of the world in all aspects of infrastructure development –quantity, quality, access, cost and access.

Adequate and quality infrastructure is essential for helping to promote trade and development in African countries. Road links between nations will have to be strengthened to meet the large-scale demand for intra and interregional good traffic. This will require heavy capital investment and expenditure on the infrastructure. Since infrastructure development in Africa is mainly monopolized by the public sector, there is need to explore ways of involving the private sector. The private sector involvement in infrastructure development is very poor. There are many areas where private companies complain of poor infrastructure for example in the tea zones or even industrial zones yet they can be involved in the process if given support say of tax relief or other incentive packages for specific roads built.  Even the urban-based private companies can be involved in infrastructure development in the rural areas as a way of opening up investment in such areas. The areas monopolized by the public sector, for instance energy should also be keenly considered to private sector providers.

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