President Obasanjo's Op-Ed in the Hindu
Lack of sufficient and reliable infrastructure continues to weigh heavy among Africa’s many problems. Anyone trying to do business in Africa will tell you of their daily struggles with the continent’s deficient energy, transport and communication networks. The lack of dependable electricity supply hampers production, the absence of good roads slows transport, and insufficient access to modern technology limits industrialization and integration into the global market place. The resultant inefficiencies and wastage make Africa the most difficult and expensive place in which to do business; they also slow economic growth and frustrate general development.
However, the pivotal importance of infrastructure is becoming better understood in the continent. African leaders have agreed several plans and initiatives, including the AU-NEPAD African Infrastructure Action Plan 2010–2015, the Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility and the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund, to close Africa’s infrastructure gap. The African Development Bank is now spending more on infrastructure than any other aspect of development, and there is increasing regional cooperation on cross-border projects such as the trans-Africa highway and West African power pool.
Africa’s partners, too, have recognized the need to prioritize infrastructure development on the continent. As a result, they have created a vast array of policy instruments and initiatives, including the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa and the EU–Africa Partnership on Infrastructure. These initiatives are intended to coordinate and bundle assistance, and to channel private-sector investments into key projects.
However, despite the flurry of activism and proliferation of initiatives, we are still far from finding the $93 billion a year the World Bank believes necessary to bridge Africa’s infrastructure gap. Given the urgency, calls for a more comprehensive approach linking the various ongoing efforts and creating synergies between them have become louder – and rightly so.
The G20’s multi-year action plan on development may just offer such an approach. Born out of the group’s Seoul Consensus, it defines infrastructure as one of the group’s nine development priorities and seeks to build on the momentum created by existing initiatives to develop project pipelines, improve capacities and facilitate additional investments. In practice, the plan calls for the formulation of comprehensive infrastructure action plans by the multilateral development banks. It suggests the creation of a high-level panel to look into ways to harness large-scale investments continentally in infrastructure.
The pressure is now on the French G20 presidency, which has to translate the plan into purposeful action by November 2011 and avoid the pitfalls of past efforts – including short-term thinking, destabilizing capital surges, and carbon-heavy construction. Success will be measured by the amount of capital generated, and the number of projects realized, as well as by the extent to which G20 activities complement and synergize existing efforts without supplanting or fragmenting them.
By H.E. President Olusegun Obasanjo