Ibrahim Mayaki is the chief executive officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a developmental agency of the African Union. Africa Renewal’s Franck Kuwonu caught up with him at the UN headquarters in New York, where he was attending high-level meetings, to talk about the state of the proposed regional infrastructural projects on the continent.
Africa Renewal: In 2014 NEPAD was looking for financing for 16 regional infrastructure projects in Africa. At that time you said these projects were ready to start. What is their status now?
Mr. Mayaki: We selected the 16 infrastructure projects through a very strict screening process. We worked with the private sector in Africa and representatives from the World Economic Forum and others. We now have bankable projects. The Algiers-Lagos Highway (about 4,500 km) is one of them. Currently, only 19 km are left for it to be completed by 2016. This is a big achievement for us.
Yet there have been reports of newly paved portions of the road often disappearing under drifts of sand that block the route for days on end. What is being done to address these problems?
I believe those problems have been solved for now.
Powering the continent was one of the three priority sectors highlighted in 2014. Two hydropower projects — Ruzizi III in East Africa and the Sambangalou Dam in West Africa — were also part of the 16 projects. Has the financing been settled and work started?
There is no financing for the Sambangalou Dam as yet, but we are currently working on a scheme that we hope will help us to raise the money by 2016. Financing was settled for Ruzizi; the dam is almost complete now.
The Abidjan-Lagos corridor in West Africa was another one of those bankable projects. Last September Côte d’Ivoire completed a small portion of it—just a 42 km stretch of the expected 1,022 km highway. Progress appears rather slow; what are the constraints the project faces?
It is true that progress is slow. We need to improve our capacity to manage cross-border projects. The experience of African countries is fundamentally about managing national projects, not cross-border ones. So we are on a learning curve. One experience that has proved to be quite useful is from the Algiers-Lagos Highway. We may face resistance and other difficulties, but strong political will from ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States] and President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire, who is championing that project, will make it succeed.
Since NEPAD is not directly involved in implementing projects, how do you get national governments to live up to their commitments and agreements to implement mega-projects?
On the Lagos-Abidjan road, for instance, we worked very closely with ECOWAS. We received funding from Germany for much of the consultancy work that has been done so far. We have close working relations with each of the governments that are involved in this highway. So we are doing our job.
What is positive is that the project was decided by ECOWAS. It is their decision, and they have to implement it and then issue a report. The other positive thing is that President Ouattara was tasked to lead the initiative and to report on progress. Also, we have NEPAD and ECOWAS working closely on the technical aspects of the project in order to move it forward.
Do donors channel funds through NEPAD to finance regional infrastructure projects?
No. Financing is not channelled through NEPAD. We are a facilitating entity and all we can do is help the countries mobilize resources.
We know that most national infrastructure projects are being funded by China. With China’s economy slowing and commodity prices, including oil, declining, can we now expect a slump in infrastructure development in Africa, which has been one of the main drivers of economic growth?
Well, NEPAD is working on regional projects, so the impact for us is low because China is not involved in regional projects, but works with individual governments on national projects. Naturally, the slowing of the Chinese economy will affect countries that are exporting commodities to China or countries that depend on China for investments. Again, remember that many of the Chinese investments now are from Chinese private companies who are looking for returns. They will not change their behaviour because their economy is slowing down.