Africa needs to achieve its infrastructure “big push”

In Africa, we often talk about the opportunities offered by “leapfrog”, these technological leaps that will allow the continent to develop more rapidly by learning from the experiences of other countries and by adopting new technologies more quickly. But if there is one step that Africa will not be able to skip, it is infrastructure. Because, despite its openness to the outside world, with a coastline oriented towards the export of raw materials to industrialized countries, the continent remains the most marginal region in world trade… and the least integrated within its own borders, with inter-African trade barely exceeding 13% of sub-Saharan Africa’s total foreign trade.

It is estimated that the “gap” in terms of infrastructure investment in Africa stands between $130 billion and $170 billion per year. Filling it would allow an annual increase of 2.6% in average per capita income, according to the World Bank – a very rapid jump in growth. Access to electricity, that only 43% of households have access to, is at the top of the list, along with access to drinking water and transport infrastructure. Connecting cities and regions by road, rail and air is no longer just a matter of necessity. Amplified by rapid urbanization, these needs also represent enormous opportunities, which contribute to making Africa one of the last frontiers of growth in the world.

A global awareness happened in the 2000s. Responses commensurate with the challenges were sought. The Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (NEPAD-IPPF) was launched in 2005 to support regional projects. Fueled by several donor countries, this fund has made it possible to complete the financing of 30 projects, totalling $24 billion. Building on this success, Africa decided to go further in 2012 with its Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), launched at the initiative of the African Union Commission (AU), NEPAD, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the regional economic communities. In view of the diversity of national, regional and international initiatives, synergy between the AU Commission and the regional economic communities is central.

Today, through the “5% Agenda”, we want to mobilize a gigantic and almost “natural” source of financing: African pension funds and sovereign wealth funds. We estimate that African institutional investors hold more than $1.1 trillion. For the time being, these funds are invested in ultra-secure assets such as US government bonds or, ironically enough, European roads and airports.

How can we expect foreign investors to come to invest in us if we do not invest ourselves in our future? We suggest that these African pension funds and sovereign wealth funds invest at least 5% of their assets under management to close the infrastructure financing gap in Africa. That would be about $55 billion. Today, with the establishment in the United States of the Development Finance Corporation – whose objective is to de-risk the financing of institutional investors, particularly towards Africa – Africa must seize the opportunity to lead the way. This is why an African Infrastructure Guarantee Facility (AIGM) is being developed with the African Development Bank (AfDB). As far as infrastructure is concerned, we are not advocating for a leapfrog, but for a “big push”!

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