Apaltry rate of investment in infrastructure has dimmed the otherwise bright future for our continent.
Decades of self-serving economic policies, political agendas and some may say cynical or ‘feel good’ aid flows to Africa clearly have not delivered much. Yet, there is a new sense of enthusiasm and positive energy from Africa. The new generation of Africans is seizing the future.
The people are moving and the opportunities are endless for Africans. Entrepreneurs from around the world are engaged, but the picture has flaws; the story is oversimplified. The basic needs are still missing. Where are the ports and harbours, railways, roads, power plants and electrical and water distribution to support growth?
It is Africa’s diversity that makes it so rich, but it is also this diversity that remains the biggest hurdle to the growth that is eagerly expected.
Africa comprises 53 diverse countries – historically impacted by colonial era and cold war foreign ideologies; diverse languages, inefficient bureaucracy, nationalist inward-looking focus and economic protectionism. The continent often lacks experience when it comes to major infrastructure delivery and attracting private sector or foreign development investment.
Enter the World Economic Forum (WEF) and many other NGOs and Develop Finance Institutions (DFIs) who seek to usher in a better world.
WEF is a private institution respected as an influencer and incubator in helping the world understand the future.
The focus on Africa, in the last decade, has done good and raised the economic profile of the continent around the world.
WEF has no implementation resources or infrastructure delivery capacity but are good at investigation, evaluation and think-tanking. Ideas may abound but when does planning turn into delivery? Many highly qualified professionals with great ideas meet annually with apparently limited visible progress when it comes to the hardware on the ground.
In 2013, WEF stated that “with an expected annual growth of 5 percent in 2012-2013, sub-Saharan Africa continues its transformative journey from a developing continent to a hub of global growth. According to the World Bank, almost half of Africa’s countries have attained middle-income status. At the same time, the continent’s positive outlook is threatened by fluctuating commodity prices, rising inequality and youth unemployment.”
At that session, much time was spent on the identification of target and priority infrastructure projects and 51 were shortlisted. The work done on the projects list was commendable, but there were crucial missing factors preventing the realization of the funding and construction of these projects.
The ability to attract large scale DFI funding to the extent required, which is put at $75 billion by 2040, is still elusive due to three factors: the absence of upfront ‘at risk’ funding of early project feasibility studies that can attract full project funding from private, public and DFI sources; a lack of political will and technical knowhow.
At this year’s forum, it’s encouraging to see all three of these key factors firmly on the agenda. There is a realization of the need to have a regional integrated view and that non-returnable funds are made available, to enable project preparation to be effective which will lead to funding and implementation.
My birthplace in Zimbabwe and my own personal African infrastructure adventure, over the last 30 something years, has given me valuable first-hand experience of the immensely difficult task of getting major projects through to implementation, both from a private and public sector perspective.
My personal experience with WEF goes back to the event in Cape Town in 2010. I attended with a special interest in the economic growth drivers and capacity building within Africa’s infrastructure.
In a number of DFI forums, my colleagues and I stressed that while projects may be much needed, project financing funds will not flow unless there were crucial additional funds made available that paid for the early detailed feasibility studies, including the designs and accurate technical scoping, budgeting and funding mechanisms and ultimately project management.
At last, we may be seeing the DFIs and the many agencies seeking infrastructure solutions for Africa coming together to get the African vision moving.
WEF would have thus played a strategic role in unlocking the potential. Africa is waiting.