How to improve infrastructure in Africa amid transport challenges

Africa’s transport infrastructure has seemingly reached a stalemate, with several opportunities for investment and project implementation but little to no development projects surviving past feasibility and planning. While investors are at the ready, eager to accelerate infrastructure development with the necessary funding, roughly 80% of projects fail during feasibility and business planning.

With so many opportunities available for growth, it bears asking how to improve infrastructure in Africa when the shortcomings are not related to funding availability. Read below for more on the challenges that currently curb Africa’s infrastructure development and ways to eliminate the roadblocks to transportation excellence.

Challenges of transport and ICT infrastructure in African cities

Before we delve into the solutions to Africa’s largest infrastructure challenges, it is important to understand the challenges the transport and ICT sectors face that hinder development possibilities. While access to funding is not one of them, some can be solved with the funds available, assuming that proper funding management is applied.

Short-term focus

One of the biggest shortcomings of most failed infrastructure development projects is a shortsighted approach and an inability to plan past changing political and economic climates. Projects planned and implemented for longer-term change would be more successful in bridging the current gap in impactful ways. Similarly, short-term timelines may easily be derailed due to delays in acquiring appropriate licensing and documentation. Longer-term project timelines can account for such delays with more accuracy.

Lack of bankability

Many failed projects share one common weakness – bankability. With inadequate resources for proper planning and feasibility, project developers are incapable of guaranteeing the bankability factor of their projects. This leads to an increase in projects that fall short early on in the planning phase. Thus, while the funding opportunities are there, the projects capable of successfully utilising the funding are lacking.

Electricity instability

Electricity supply is one of the notable challenges African project developers face when attempting to bridge the gap in transport infrastructure. The nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to grid electricity clearly indicate the lack of power stability across the continent, hindering the progress of transport infrastructure development while simultaneously adding another infrastructure pain point to the equation. For development to be plausible, this gap must be bridged far quicker than it currently is – according to this article, “India connected 100 million people to electricity in 2018, compared to just 20 million achieved in Africa”.

While these challenges may appear insurmountable, adequate management and airtight project plans can ensure that projects access the necessary funding that’s so readily available.

How to improve infrastructure in Africa

The key changes required to benefit Africa’s infrastructure development are related to the management of funds and projects rather than acquiring the funding itself. Here are some of the solutions to help ensure infrastructure for development across all aspects of life.

Infrastructure funding management

As discussed above, stakeholders are not unwilling to invest in infrastructure development in Africa. The problem arises when these funds are mismanaged, possibly derailing the opportunities for further investments. When projects are managed properly from the feasibility and planning stage already, the chances of public transport networks investments adding undeniable value to the continent are higher.

Our role as the DBSA is to ensure that various funding facilities are put in place to promote effective asset and fund allocation. Further, third-party funds are managed, and effective strategies are developed to address the infrastructure needs specific to South Africa and the wider continent.

Sustainable development

Development around infrastructure requires a forward-thinking approach and sustainable solutions to ensure the improvements can stand the test of time. As the digital sphere becomes increasingly prevalent, sustainability would mean that the path to infrastructure development must also focus on addressing digital inequalities within the continent. Failure to do so will hinder any real progress towards transportation that serves Africa’s people and economy well into the future.

As the DBSA, we believe in prioritising sustainability when planning for infrastructure development. This way, all aspects that could impact infrastructure efficiency in the future, such as climate change, social challenges and digital inequalities, can be factored in and addressed proactively for widespread economic and social impact across Africa.