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Looking A Little Closer to Home- Infrastructure Deficit in Africa

Africa has a huge infrastructure shortfall. The World Bank estimates that the continent will need to invest US$ 93 billion each year for the next decade to address the deficit. Some countries are doing alright. South Africa is ranked 32nd globally for its infrastructure Mauritius ranks 42nd and Namibia 52nd. Elsewhere, however, there are more serious issues.

Nigeria needs to spend US$ 15 billion each year to make up its shortfall. Tanzania, in its 130th position, has poor roads and ports Africa’s share of global manufacturing is drastically disproportionate to its population. While 15 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, only about one percent of global manufacturing takes place there.

This is largely due to poor transport, communication, and energy infrastructures- a report by UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa. Travelling 1,800 kilometers by train from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia is a poor, rough and sad journey that speaks volumes of the devastating state of Africa’s transport system. Disused wagons are a common sight and the train makes several unexplained stops.

Tanzania-Zambia Railways (Tazara), one of the region’s biggest post-independence infrastructure projects is still plagued by derailments and breakdowns after almost four decades in operation. The train is dilapidated and cannot carry heavy loads which are otherwise transported by different means. Most African states have inadequate road transport systems. Poor and substandard roads decorate the continent Still, transport infrastructure is not even the region’s biggest problem, keeping the lights on is.

The majority of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa still experience regular power outages which greatly contribute to the low productivity of many firms. According to a 2010 report by the World Bank, Power is Africa’s biggest infrastructure weak point, with so many as 30 countries facing regular power outages. Companies operating in most African countries where the power supply is unreliable have resorted to purchasing diesel-operated power generators, which increase operating costs drastically. Experts estimate electricity produced by diesel can cost twice as much as energy from coal or hydropower–based power systems.

High energy costs combined with other infrastructure deficits- rail and road problems have lowered productivity rates at African companies by as much as 40 percent. Investors are shunning away from such barriers hence the economic development is highly lowered. Mobility is at the core of many critical issues that have been shaping the global development agenda. Africa is, however, the worst affected The Chinese government has done tremendous efforts to improve the transport system in Sub-Saharan Africa.

China is the biggest financier of infrastructure projects in Africa. It is contributing to infrastructure resources that link resources in countries as diverse as Mauritania, Sudan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Angola, and Zambia. The foreign investors have been to the aid of making sure that African roads are constructed to the standard levels and with expertise. However, this leaves the African continent with a toll of debts that are to be paid even with future generations.

A common newborn baby typically has a debt to pay even before it is conceived. Past efforts to improve infrastructure on the continent have often come up short. Corruption, security concerns, and the threat of political instability are, to varying degrees, issues that threaten to derail projects that get past the approval stage. While the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa has shown promise, only four of its 51 major projects have reached the advanced implementation stage so far. Whether the scheme can meet its ambitious funding goals remains to be seen.

If infrastructure can be improved, it would provide many African nations with a means of pulling themselves out of poverty. By improving logistics and trading networks, countries would be able to make better use of their natural resources. Mozambique, for example, is rich in aluminum, coal, and natural gas, but poor in terms of its trade facilitation and logistics. Its current levels of coal production exceed its rail capacity, while the road network, which is largely unpaved or underdeveloped, causes further bottlenecks. Ensuring Africa can make the most of its resources will go a long way to improving citizens’ quality of life. Africa’s vast infrastructure deficit is a constraint on its growth, but also an opportunity to leapfrog to new, more efficient technologies.