Infrastructure development is Africa’s most pressing challenge

Infrastructure development is Africa’s most pressing challenge

Africa’s infrastructure deficit is seriously hampering its economic development. A recent World Bank study shows that Africa’s poor infrastructure system reduces national economic growth by as much as 2% annually. Furthermore it diminishes business productivity by as much as 40%, making Africa the least productive continent in the world.

The importance of improving national and cross-boundary infrastructure can therefore not be overstated. In fact, bettering infrastructure is arguably the single greatest challenge for Africa in the twenty-first century.


Rail is the most cost-effective method of transport when it comes to moving large cargo over land. Trans-national rail systems are needed in Africa to facilitate the movement of freight from and to ports as well as within the continent.

The African Union (AU) has expressed its firm belief that an integrated and modern railway system is essential for the development of the continent. More specifically its development would offer employment opportunities, assist in the improvement of agricultural, mining and trade endeavours, enhance supply chains, improve regional economies and inter-regional cooperation, and make Africa more globally competitive.

Central, East and West Africa are the regions most in need of improved and extended railway networks. Many of these nations, particularly the landlocked ones, have no rail network at all or old and abandoned lines and services.


A key driver of reform in aviation in Africa is the Programme of Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), founded by NEPAD and the AU Commission. PIDA has called for the full liberalisation of the sector, a move supported by South African, Ethiopian and Kenyan Airlines – the continent’s largest airlines – but resisted in certain other nations. This is however felt by many to be the number one priority for reforming the sector and promoting cross-border trade and business, among other things.

Another priority is improving aviation safety. At present 25% of all global aviation accidents occur in Africa, says NEPAD Transport Infrastructure expert Dr John Tambi. Key to achieving this goal is the establishment of regional aviation safety and accident investigation organisations.

Africa’s aspiration to become more globally competitive requires a marked improvement in the upkeep and reputation of its airlines.


Head of Infrastructure at NEPAD Adama Deen says it is vital to fill in the ‘missing links’ in Africa’s road networks as “Without these connections integration in Africa is impossible”.

Important developments in road construction and maintenance have taken place in road networks between North and West Africa, as well as in the SADC and EAC. Central Africa is the region most in need of development, but challenging terrain, heavy rainfall and thick vegetation, combined with inadequate local will, are hampering road development in these countries.


Dr Tambi believes road development can only be a success if attention is simultaneously given to railways and shipping: “There are goods being transported by road, and these roads are being destroyed by heavy loads. This could rather be done much more efficiently and safely by rail or shipping.”

Key to enhancing African shipping is improving its processing times, which are currently too slow and undermine local producers’ efforts to compete in global trade. “The processing times at ports can be made more efficient, that not only helps trade within Africa, but also out of Africa,” says Tambi.

Other areas of infrastructure desperately in need of improvement are telecoms, water and sewerage, and power generation, which includes traditional forms as well as non-renewable forms like hydro and solar power. Cheaper and more extensive broadband and internet connectivity are needed primarily to enhance education and public services and facilitate business. Universal access to potable water and modern sewerage are basic requirements for improving Africa’s state of health. And finally significantly heightened power generation and transmission are required across the board to speed up socioeconomic growth.

David Okwara

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