Africa’s infrastructure gap remains wide and continues to stifle the continent’s socioeconomic growth. Its road network deficit is estimated at a minimum of 60,000 kilometres by 2040 while the rail network gap is estimated at 30,000 kilometres.
The continent urgently needs some 17 new airports and seven sea ports.
Of great significance is the energy infrastructure. Africa's current total installed capacity is a mere 145GW against the production target of 700GW by the year 2040. The figures are not any better within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) region.
Renewable and sustainable
The Igad infrastructure master plan indicates numerous missing links in roads, rail, ICT, water transport, and power transmission lines. It also has numerous unexploited and underdeveloped energy sources, many of which are green, renewable and sustainable.
The plan has highlighted the short-term priority projects – 61 in transport, nine in energy, 14 in ICT, and five trans-boundary waterways. These projects need to be implemented by 2024, three years from today, at a cost of $34 billion.
While it is commendable that the master plan was completed in 2020, it is important to note that the recommendation to develop an Igad regional infrastructure plan dates back to 2010. This, therefore, speaks volumes about the continent’s pace of action on infrastructure, the most important enabler of trade among our nations.
We need to take note that the countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia take on average one to two years to develop their regional infrastructure master plans.
We all agree that Africa needs to trade more with itself.
We also agree that liberalisation policies alone will not be sufficient to drive intra-Africa trade. To realise our potential in intra-Africa and regional trade, we must invest in appropriate transport, energy, and ICT infrastructure as a matter of priority.
Regional priority projects, therefore, need to be incorporated in national development plans and also get prioritised in regional economic communities’ infrastructure master plans.
Each country must play its role for meaningful regional integration and trade to be realised.
The Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Transport Corridor (Lapsset) is a good example of a regional project whose implementation has been paralysed by lack of national ownership and failure by regional economic communities to prioritise it.
I am, however, encouraged by the current plans to develop a regional coordination trans-boundary mechanism that will go a long way in helping the implementation of this critical corridor.
Continental free trade will only be realised if the RECs are effective in their role of facilitating regional economic integration between members. The RECs must appreciate their critical role as the basis for wider African integration.
Infrastructure projects that cut across national boundaries and are regional can all be developed simultaneously, with each country committing to do its part while the RECS provide supporting and coordinating roles.
With that spirit, the Kisumu-Malaba-Kampala Standard Gauge Railway line can be done in a fairly short time if Kenya and Uganda each commit to developing their respective segments.
Likewise, the Ethiopia-Sudan Power Transmission Interconnector can be accomplished fairly quickly, with each of the countries doing their part.
The Nairobi-Mogadishu Fibre-Optic link likewise can be developed simultaneously on the Somalia and Kenya sides.
The Lapsset crude oil pipeline is yet another example of a project that could be accomplished in a relatively short time if the three footprint countries act collectively and implement concurrently.
Many times, we are so confined to our national boundaries that we miss the potential we have by working closely as a region.
The eight Igad countries together have a population close to 300 million people sitting on an ocean shoreline of 11,600 kilometres that has significant potential for blue economy.
We are sitting on underexploited minerals with evidence of sizeable amounts of platinum, silver, gold, soda ash, limestone, phosphate, copper and zinc across the Igad region.
Together, we have tremendous potential in oil and gas, geothermal energy, and hydro and solar power generation. These natural resources need to be exploited, harnessed, and developed urgently for the benefit of present and future generations.
The close to 200 million youth in the Igad countries are getting restless, as is the case in the rest of the continent. They can no longer afford to wait for skills and meaningful jobs. This is why we must act with a sense of urgency.
Delivery of infrastructure on a regional scale remains a sure bet to spur trade and manufacturing that creates jobs. Let us think on a regional and continental scale. We have 16 landlocked countries on the continent. Only regional integration will link them to the external world and open them up for trade and investment.
We must find ways to maximise the synergies among our states and the sub-regional bodies to speed up regional connectivity. This is especially important in the area of financing of regional infrastructure projects. It is not possible to finance transnational infrastructure projects solely from national budgets.
It is for this reason that I have, in the past two years, been advocating the establishment of an Africa fund for infrastructure to support important and necessary project preparation and development of a pipeline of bankable infrastructure projects.
Raila Odinga, former Kenyan Prime Minister, is the AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development. The remarks were made at the Igad Regional Infrastructure Master Plan Partners’ Roundtable, November, 23-25, 2021.