The African diaspora should be fully mobilised to contribute meaningfully to the continent’s infrastructure development, says the writer. File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
Infrastructure inadequacy remains a major obstacle to Africa’s economic growth, development and productivity. It is estimated that poor infrastructure cuts national economic growth by 2% annually and productivity by a staggering 40%.

Since its formation in 1963, the Organisation of the African Unity, later transformed into the AU, has had the task of accelerating continental integration through infrastructure development.

The Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) was the first continent-wide attempt by Africans to restructure colonial-era infrastructure to achieve Pan-African unity and integration.

However, the LPA failed to take root owing to a number of internal, regional and global political instabilities.

The Cold War and Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and the World Bank) economic policy of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme constrained Africa’s ability to develop cross-boundary infrastructure.

In southern Africa, through cross-border raids in neighbouring countries as well as supporting rebel movements such as Renamo in Mozambique and Unita in Angola, apartheid South Africa’s policy of destabilisation frustrated attempts by the newly independent states to pursue infrastructure connectivity. From this background, Africa should shun meaningless debates and narratives emanating from outside its shores concerning the raging competition between and among its strategic partners.

The priority and focus for Africans should be on how to advance its interest to foster intra-African trade, reducing poverty, productivity and integration through infrastructure development.

The second major move by the AU to deal with Africa’s underdevelopment was when former president Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria came up with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

This process led to the formation of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (Pida) in 2012. Pida was established to assist member states to co-ordinate cross-boundary infrastructure to increase intra-African trade and employment and achieve sustainable development.

This was to be done across four main infrastructure sectors: energy, transport, transboundary water and ICT. Although there is notable development of Pan-African infrastructure in many African countries, it remain unclear whether Pida will meet its 2040 targets. Efforts are under way to move from the initial Pida 1 to the second phase of Pida. What are lessons learned in the first phase? What should be done to better deliver infrastructure development in Africa?

The AU Development Agency (Auda)-Nepad and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) should first and foremost work closely with African centres of excellence especially universities and the African Private Sector. While the AU and Regional Economic Communities design excellent infrastructure plans, these however, fail to be implemented at national level.

There is lack of capacity in many African countries to develop national plans aligned to AU’s flagship infrastructure programme defined by Pida.

In most countries in Africa, infrastructure development is politicised, leading to endless changes of infrastructure plans and priorities. This is often accompanied by high levels of corruption, poor planning, inadequate skills and development finance.

To overcome these shortcomings, effort should be taken to strengthen African states’ ability to implement Pida’s flagship projects. There is an urgent need to develop continental databases for the skills available and companies with the capacity to work with Africa’s strategic partners in infrastructure development. The African diaspora should be fully mobilised to contribute meaningfully to Africa’s infrastructure development.

Africa’s developmental partners are many and varied. It is important for the AU to develop differentiated strategies and tactics to fully engage its strategic partners. For instance, the US and China do not pursue similar projects in Africa. In the second phase of Pida, Africans ought to pursue smart strategies to direct external partners in the development of its infrastructure.

There has been endless attention paid to the role of the US and China as if they are the only players in Africa’s infrastructure development. There are many countries investing in Africa’s infrastructure such as those in the Gulf, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, India and Brazil.

Therefore, Pida 2 should be planned and designed differently. It must be people-centred with special focus on the African youth and women.

In Pida 1, much emphasis was placed on soliciting advice from the World Bank and the consultancies in the developed world.

There is no doubt these players are crucial. However, Africa ought to rely on its own people to develop its infrastructure. In my own deliberations in Pida’s seminar, this was to encourage those in charge to avoid the exclusion of scholars, students and members of the society in planning Africa’s future.

* Monyae is the director for Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg. This week, Monyae was one of the academics who addressed a stakeholders’ meeting on Africa’s Strategic Infrastructure Partnerships in Pretoria organised by Auda-Nepad and the ECA.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.