In its latest report on the state of Africa’s infrastructure i.e. power, transport, irrigation, water and sanitation, and Information and Communication Technology, the World Bank underscored the fact that better infrastructure has been responsible for more than half of Africa’s improved economic performance.
However, the report reiterated the fact that Africa’s infrastructure networks increasingly lag behind those of other developing countries and are characterized by missing regional links.
Not only are Africa’s infrastructure networks deficient in coverage, but the price of the services provided is also exceptionally high by global standards.
A key recommendation in the report is that African countries should continue to pursue regional integration. This would lower costs across all aspects of infrastructure because it provides economies of scale that reduce the cost of service.
The other rationale is that African countries are simply too small to develop infrastructure cost-effectively on their own. Volumes of traffic to most African national seaports and airports are too low to provide the economies of scale needed to attract the services of major shipping companies and airlines.
In the last couple of years, the East African Community has moved towards this direction. It is pursuing regional projects in an attempt to address its infrastructure challenges.
Priority has been placed on the development of roads, railways, civil aviation, posts and telecommunications, energy and inland waterways.
This includes the establishment of the East African railways master plan, the energy master plan, the EAC Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA) and implementation of the Cross-Border Telecommunication Connectivity Project among others.
Progress has been made on some projects such as development of the Isaka railway line, the construction of the Arusha-Namanga- Athi River road linking Kenya and Tanzania and on to Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and southern Sudan under the East African Road network project.
However, there must be more effort made because the region still has a large number of projects that have, either not kicked off or have stalled.
There is urgent need to fast-track projects such as the East African Power Master Plan, renovation of port infrastructure and cross-border telecommunication connectivity projects such as EAC Broadband Infrastructure Network Project, which is aimed at linking the five EAC capitals through a high capacity fibre optic cable.
For instance in ICT, regional collaboration in continental fiber-optic submarine cables can reduce Internet and international call charges by half.
By sharing large-scale, cost-effective energy resources across countries according to the World Bank report, regional trade for instance can reduce electricity costs by $2 billion a year.
While the cost of addressing Africa’s infrastructure needs around $93 billion a year, the report also underscores that the magnitude of inefficiency, with which Africa spends its current infrastructure resources, contributes to this.
Apparently as much as $17 billion of its estimated $93 billion spending needs could be met simply by using existing resources more effectively.
It is estimated that the poor state of infrastructure in sub- Saharan Africa cuts national economic growth by 2 percentage points every year and reduces business productivity by as much as 40 percent.
The author is a journalist with The New Times