Africa is the world’s second-largest and second most-populous continent, and with over a billion people in 61 territories. Its topography and climate range from deserts in the north to mountainous jungles in the central parts, and even more changes the further south one travels. It is this vastness and variety that makes travelling, whether by road, rail and even by air, in Africa such a challenge. The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) are finding ways of integrating and simplifying transport infrastructure in Africa.
The challenges experienced in creating a viable transport network that not only connects Africa with the world, but also with within the continent itself are many. Yet through NEPAD the priority has been to create a network for cross border transport, including air, road, rail and shipping, that will make it easier to create viable trade on the continent. The importance of a viable transport infrastructure system is closely connected to the economic, technological and social renaissance of Africa.
Dr John Tambi, Transport Infrastructure expert at NEPAD, and Mr Adama Deen,of the Lead/Infrastructure Programs and Projects, NEPAD Planning and coordinating Agency (NPCA) , say the short term goals and projects currently under way are all part of the bigger picture, the creation of a fully connected African continent.
Dr. Tambi says that “NEPAD recognises that without infrastructure, regional integration will not be realised.” While Mr. Deen would like to see the $8 billion investment in these projects by the African Development Bank complimented by more interest from private and public sectors.
The forthcoming Programme of Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), is long term infrastructure strategy for African transport, energy, trans-boundary and information and communication technologies, and is a guiding light to the work done by NEPAD on the continent. By 2030, the program, formed between NEPAD and the African Union Commission, hopes to have a fully integrated infrastructure for the whole of Africa. “Every country and every region has had its own master plan and priorities,” says Mr. Deen, “now we can all come together as Africa to have one priority for the continent.” The studies undertaken as part of the programme’s implementation will hopefully help to engage donors, particularly from the private sector, to invest and help develop a completely holistic African infrastructure system.
According to Tambi, NEPAD is promoting the role of aviation in Africa as an integral part of opening up those borders. Unfortunately, 11 years since the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), the single most important air transport reform policy initiative for Africa that calls for the full liberalisation of the air transport services, change has not been fully implemented by African states. Notwithstanding the YD’s legally binding nature, aviation services has not effectively developed in Africa, resulting in an uncoordinated, erratic and poor air transportation service, and a poor safety record. Tambi says that 25% of all global aviation incidents occur in Africa, which is quite concerning. By creating a similar concept to the African Peer Review Mechanism, an AU program to allow members to voluntarily conform to political and economic standards across the board, NEPAD hope to bring together countries that are willing and ready to fully implement the YD. In addition to the YD implementation, NEPAD is also promoting aviation safety in Africa by supporting the creation of regional aviation safety organisations for airworthiness and aircraft accident investigation. The Banjul Accord Group, in West Africa, could be used as an example to promote safety at a regional level, because individual states may not have the resources to do so.
This NEPAD initiative enjoys support from the three largest airlines in Africa, namely Kenyan, Ethiopia and South African Airlines, as well as many of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) members. The problem lies though in convincing the rest of Africa to be part of the collective.
On road infrastructure, Mr Deen elaborates, Africa has done well to find and correct the missing links between states in Africa. “Without these connections,” he says, “integration in Africa is impossible.” Already, these connections, namely road development and maintenance, have been made between North Africa and West Africa, as well as having large scale developments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and the East African Community (EAC). However, the challenges in middle Africa, with difficult topography and heavy vegetation to contend with, as well as a distinct lack of road infrastructure priority in this region, is the next step for NEPAD.
Dr. Tambi sees rail transport and shipping in an inter-modal context with road and air infrastructure and is an important compliment to the success of these sectors.“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,” he says.
The potential advantages of Africa’s waterways must be fully capitalised for goods transportation. Deen feels the ports are a key enabler in the inter-modal relationship with the continents other transportation systems. By their location alone, particularly Lagos, Nigeria and increasingly Dakar, Senegal on the west coast, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya on the eastern seaboard, and most notably the three southern ports of Durban Maputo and Cape Town, inland sub Saharan Africa can be served effectively with a strong relationship with road and rail transport. New developing African ports include the port of Lamu, Kenya that will serve as a gateway connection for Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the middle east and Asia, and Nacala and Beira ports in Mozambique, serving the SADC region. While the influence hub of these ports may be small at present, the improvement of road and rail infrastructure will open up the African hinterland. Deen says, projects like these are an integral part of NEPAD’s work, together with the African Development Bank, as part of their Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (IPPF), “which gives regions the opportunity to tap resources and find funding to assist their studies up to the bankable stage.”
“In Africa, “ adds Dr. Tambi, “we have the most number of land locked countries in the world,” and any crisis that closes an important port or hub of trade affects these regions. Incidents like the 2007 Kenyan election protests affected the output of Mombasa, and more recently the Transnet strike in South Africa closed Durban port for several days, so goods are not reaching the inland countries they would normally serve. “Alternative ways are needed to get these goods through.”
Exports from Africa can also be transported more efficiently with a more integrated infrastructure. As an example, Tambi says the coffee exports of Rwanda reaching US markets take much longer than the exports from Columbia. “The processing times at ports can be made more efficient, that not only helps trade within Africa, but also out of Africa.”
In accordance with the PIDA mandate, an emphasis on the ICT sector is also an important part of Africa’s infrastructure development strategy. Deen says availability of a cheaper broadband communication system will give the continent better access to international communication and improved broadband services in Africa such as internet connectivity. Starting with the recent construction maintenance agreement signed between the France Telekom led ACE Consortium Partners and Alcatel/Lucent to construct the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) Submarine fibre cable, will see Africa connected yet again with the rest of the world, with a more cost effective product, in line with international standards by 2012.