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Why infrastructure development is critical

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Why infrastructure development is critical

Dr Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of Nepad and former Prime Minister of Niger, writes on why infrastructure growth is imperative to Africa’s economic strengths.

The story of Africa’s development is changing. Six of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa. Democratic governance has been strengthened over the last five decades, enabling a platform for stable growth and prosperity in most parts of the continent.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is happy to be part of this upward transformation process, through the implementation of its Programmes.

But while we boast of having some of the fastest growing economies, what we do not generally say is that we also have seven of the 10 most unequal economies.

If we look at the GINI coefficients (an index which measures the extent to which the distribution of income or consumption expenditure among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution) Africa is the most unequal continent in the world.

Added to that specificity is the fact that 75% of Africa’s population is under 25 years old. This growing youth population, most of which has access to modern and rapid communications systems,
and requires instant results, could impact adversely on the African nation-state, if social inequality and the current systems of government are not revised.

Inclusive policies are an absolute prerequisite for political stability. By “inclusive” I mean creating jobs for the youth and facilitating access to public services.

The equation of the most unequal yet youngest continent is one that could result in an explosive situation.

Tunisia is an interesting model that failed. The North African country was praised for its good transport system, highest penetration of IT on the continent, good ports, relatively good airports, fairly good agricultural production, the highest literacy rate of girls… but the country imploded.

Fundamentally, the majority of the population did not perceive the level of inclusion of the youth as satisfactory. This is why whatever we do in agriculture, infrastructure, ICT, if we do not resolve the key issue of inclusiveness, we are carrying very fragile systems that at one moment or another will implode. So, inclusiveness is really fundamental.

But for real development in every sphere to happen, we need to improve our infrastructure. At Nepad, we believe that infrastructural development is the turn-key to all aspects of social and economic transformation.

Antonio Estache and Grégoire Garsous, both experts in infrastructure investment in Africa, state in their paper The impact of infrastructure on growth in developing countries that there is, indeed, a plethora of anecdotal and more technical evidence that better quantity and quality of infrastructure can directly raise the productivity of human and physical capital and hence growth.

Despite the gains registered in improving regional infrastructure connectivity across the continent since the establishment of the African Union along with Nepad, Africa still faces serious infrastructure shortcomings across all sectors, both in terms of access and quality. 

For instance, only 38% of the African population has access to electricity; the penetration rate for the internet is less than 10% while only a quarter of Africa’s road network is paved.Studies have shown that poor road, rail and port facilities add 30% to 40% to the cost of goods traded among African countries, thus adversely affecting the private- sector development and the flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). 

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