Africa Needs a Solid Infrastructure Base for Its Economic Transformation

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A strong infrastructure base is critical for Africa’s economic transformation, Economic Commission for Africa’s Sylvain Boko said Thursday.

Speaking during an ECA-sponsored session at the annual Nigerian Bar Association conference in Lagos, Nigeria, Mr. Boko, the Principal Regional Advisor and Head of Development Planning and Statistics at the ECA, said it was imperative for the continent to create an enabling environment for investment in transboundary infrastructure projects that will change the lives of millions of ordinary people.

He said the harmonization of policies, laws, and regulations through the ECA’s Model Law on transboundary infrastructure projects, will go a long way in strengthening existing continental, regional, and national institutional capacity.

He added there was also an urgent need for the ECA and its pan African partners to help develop the knowledge base of transboundary infrastructure projects and technical advisory capacity on such projects on the continent.

“There’s also a critical need for capacity development,” he said, adding private perception of risk and uncertainty in the past may have been exacerbated by the disparity and lack of harmonization of the regulatory and legal frameworks governing transboundary infrastructure projects even if such projects are otherwise profitable.

He said adequate infrastructure can accelerate Africa’s growth, adding the continent can actually fund its development priorities, especially infrastructure projects, with domestic resources.

Mr. Boko said Africa, though still faced with the arduous task of mobilizing adequate resources to fund its own growth and transformation, it had the potential to do so.

He said infrastructure can trigger development on the continent and eradicate inequalities across borders.

“It is critical for the continent to have a competitive industrial sector and transboundary infrastructure to advance its integration thus promoting strong and sustained growth by reducing poverty; enhancing economic activity and competitiveness by reducing transportation cost; improving living standard by minimizing transaction costs of business,” he said.

Mr. Boko said this would also raise productivity and promote economic competiveness and in the process assist governments in domestic resource mobilization.

However, by and large, he said, the continent still lacks adequate infrastructure such as roads, railways, waterways and ICT to support its growing economies.

Emmanuel Nnadozie, Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), gave the keynote address during the panel discussion.

He said to accelerate regional integration in Africa, the continent must develop efficient and effective institutions that will be in a position to do a number of important things beyond promoting trade and regional infrastructure programs.

These include enhancing leadership; informing, educating and changing mindsets to foster a spirit of Africanness; enabling the right decisions to be made and acted upon, the right laws and policies to be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.

“Transformative leadership and political will are important for identifying and defending Africa’s interests at all levels,” said Mr. Nnadozie.

“Visionary and effective leadership is an essential requirement for accelerating regional integration because, leaders must be able to provide inspiration, motivation and clear direction to ensure that decisions are implemented.”

He said the spirit of Africanness is essential to ensure that “people from the continent would think of themselves first as Africans before thinking of themselves in terms of their respective nationalities.”

Africa, he said, must allow for a solid financial mechanism and that will enable capacity to flourish through the development, employment, retention and full and optimum utilization of human capacity, in particular capacity for policy design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation.

Mr. Nnadozie said establishing institutions which matter for regional integration in Africa was easier said than done.

“Building or strengthening these institutions could benefit from experience and best practices elsewhere. However, there would be need for institutional design experimentation that recognizes the existing sociopolitical and economic circumstances,” he said.

He also spoke on the need to identify, strengthen and rationalize overarching integration institutions; developing more functional institutions and strengthening existing pan-African institutions and establish new ones where necessary.

“Ways must be found to strengthen Africa’s institutions in order to deal with the political, legal and policy issues sighted above. It is also critical to involve the private sector in the integration process,” said Mr. Nnadozie.

“It should not be expected that all private sector groupings will favor regional integration, as some sects will definitely take some protectionist stance in fear of competition. However, as has already been experienced in some countries, the disparities in economic weight that exist between members of some groupings require that we enforce those policy instruments that deal with fears of economic polarization.”

Also on the panel were Akshai Foforia, a partner at Pinsent Mason Law Firm and Makane Mbengue, Professor of Law at the University of Geneva who spoke on opportunities of the pan-African investment code, the African arbitration mechanism and funding of transboundary infrastructure projects, among other things.

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