JOHANNESBURG -  Resource rich Africa is blessed with the highest concentration of natural resources like; diamonds, gold, oil, tropical fruits and hardwood forests. In an ideal world Africa should be an economically strong and globally competitive player. However, this is not the reality.

There are myriad reasons that can be attributed for the current status quo and high on the list is the poor ease of movement for goods and people across borders and within countries.

As we mark the start of Africa Rail, the biggest railway conference in the region, decision makers, investors and influencers will once again meet to discuss how Africa’s true potential can be unlocked by leveraging the rail sector.

As humble continental actors, we at TMH Africa are here to work together with governments and private sector alike to unlock opportunities. We are mindful there are no easy copy and paste solutions that will work as each country dynamic is specific and cannot easily be replicated in another country. However given our expertise in this sector, we can play a crucial role in helping Africa upgrade its infrastructures.
In this regard, my perspective influenced by global trends, Africa’s rail sector and South Africa’s position as a key enabler for growth is as follows:

Making Cape to Cairo connectivity a reality:

Work with existing infrastructures as much as practicable and improve track connectivity across countries. Focus should be on maintaining existing infrastructure and ecosystems rather than large capital expenditure projects, difficult to afford or finance, for a continental change of standard. African Union’s call to standardise Africa’s gauge should be aspirational and our immediate steps should be to ensure connectivity.

Use Global IP for locally informed solutions

Countries need to develop locally available Intellectual Property to fit local needs. This can be done through strategic partnerships with world class equipment manufacturers by capitalising on their global expertise to acquire the latest technology and know-how. The solutions that can address Africa’s unique challenges must be created in Africa. 
  
Capacity Development

Africa needs to develop the required capacity and expertise to sustain the rail revitalisation agenda. The rapid growth of the sector means that critical skills sets such as engineering, welding and innovation need to be available to enable the continent to grow, sustain and preserve existing developments. In that space, the connectivity and bridges between University Research centres and industries shall be fostered and developed wherever possible.

Leverage Africa Free Trade Area

Leverage the Africa Free Trade Area which is purported to be the biggest free trade area in the world. To support this, the African Union's Agenda 2063, aims to repair or construct 12,000 kilometres of missing linkages in all corners of the continent to enable the construction of a fast and reliable rail network. At least 20 percent of the pilot phase of this project is due for completion by 2023.

Add to this, the African Union would need to lobby AFTA countries to enforce policy standardisation that supports the Africa free trade area objectives so as to enable easier exchanges between countries and trading blocs. This will drive intra Africa trade and unlock approximately $3 trillion dollars in projected value of the market size.

Increase Revenue Exports and Competitiveness

Support the African Unions objective of making South Africa a rolling stock manufacturing hub for the region. By doing so we can ensure that Africa increases its export revenue capacity and its competitiveness as a manufacturer of world class rolling stock.

Leverage Technology and the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Thanks to the Internet of Things and the rise of rise of smart devices, technology can be adapted to obtain the best output and use of the assets. Advanced technology can improve safety precautions, offer a better understanding of passenger movement trends and the ability to predict when extra capacity is needed. This can be included in new rolling stock but starts demonstrating value on existing fleets as well to manage ageing in a more efficient way.

Jerome is the CEO at TMH Africa since January 2018. He is responsible for the development of TMH in Africa, located in South Africa, which works to serve the country and the African continent.

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