Lack of knowledge hampers Africa’s growth

By Jeff Kapembwa

Lusaka – Lack of capacity by African countries coupled with scanty knowledge on project preparation have been cited among some of the factors contributing to the high cost of infrastructure development resulting in sluggish growth. 

Estimates show that infrastructure development in various African countries, including the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), averages 35-50 percent to be undertaken and bring it to fruition.

This is chiefly because many countries lack the expertise to determine the real cost of infrastructure, which has become cardinal for Africa’s industrialisation as the continent strives to integrate.

Sindiso Ngwenya, the Comesa secretary-general noted that the lack of expertise forces most of the tendering processes for projects to be undertaken by donors outside the continent, chiefly at exorbitant costs for lack of information on tendering and expertise.

Addressing the 10th meeting of Comesa ministers of information technology and communication, energy and transport in Lusaka, Tuesday, Ngwenya stated that most African countries were spending a lot of borrowed money on infrastructure development.

This is despite the abundant avenues, including road toll gates, to raise revenue for such projects and help defray costs of doing business.

“We need to ring fence the levies that we collect from various avenues, including road toll gates, to build our infrastructure as this is key to our regional integration agenda,” Ngwenya told delegates.

“If money realized from road users is collected and accounted for, it can go a long way in helping us build infrastructure using our own resources.”

Ngwenya regretted that many African countries relied on borrowed funds to undertake infrastructure development, which usually demanded a lot of resources ploughed into  projects to be undertaken, yet project planning,  if applied could help defray expenses and assist Africa to develop at the pace it is as envisioned by the Comesa heads of state summit in Uganda in 2008.

Africa’s agenda for integration hinges on undertaking infrastructure development, including modern railways, roads and ports along the key transport corridors serving the region.

In energy, African leaders envision improved access to electricity by the majority of the people being critical to the development of a competitive manufacturing industry, services and for serving households in both urban and rural areas, hence the urgent need for infrastructure development to be harnessed.

“The availability of infrastructure is, therefore, critical to realise the goals of transforming our economies from producers of primary commodities first into middle income and eventually into higher income levels through the adoption of technology to add value to our products, increase trade among ourselves and with the rest of the world,” added Ngwenya.

On regional integration regarding trade and how the 19-member trading bloc has performed, Ngwenya disclosed that intra-trade since the formation of the Comesa regional Free Trade Area in 2000 has risen to $20 billion from $3,2 billion, accounting for seven percent share of trade with the rest of the world.

Although intra-Comesa trade is low, there is a potential of intra-trade worth $82,3 billion based on 2014 statistics. 

He cited one of the reasons being that many of the products being produced and exported to the rest of the world and at the same time imported from the rest of the world into the region.

These include textiles, wooden furniture, horticulture, household items, confectioneries, hides and skins, footwear and leather products, sugar confectioneries, tobacco and precious         metals.

The same study has identified transport and logistics challenges that must be addressed to make the region competitive.

Of fundamental importance to the Comesa agenda of “inclusive and sustainable industrialisation” is the absence within the region of crossborder production networks which would result in intra industry trade between and among firms.

Speaking at the same event, Acting Zambian Communication and Transport Minister, Mathew Nkhuwa noted that while infrastructure development remained essential for regional growth, reliance on donor support was hampering Africa and indeed Comesa’s regional growth hence the need to re-strategise to make the countries self sustaining and accelerate economic growth.

Nkhuwa, who is Minister of Works and Supply, stated that Africa has found itself in this predicament for want of not only resources but technical and financial availability hence the need to mobilise own resources in line with national and regional priorities.

“The fact that infrastructure is very expensive is not debatable hence the need to safeguard the huge investment by guiding usage through policies where the users pay, and installing climate resilient infrastructure,” he said.

Africa needs to embrace technologies in its quest to find new infrastructure solutions to ensure reduction in infrastructure costs and efficient utilisation.

It is imperative for all COMESA states to join hands in researching and solving the infrastructure problems that are hampering the uniform and overall development of the region, Nkhuwa added.

October 2017
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