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Cementing Africa’s infrastructure gap
PIDA Journalists Network visiting the future site of the Maloukou Bridge

Cementing Africa’s infrastructure gap

Pmpiki Chdga, 27, is a resident of a small village called Maloukou in Congo-Brazzaville along the Congo River. Chdga, who is unemployed, says life in the village is a challenge as there is no employment opportunity. Maloukou is located 80km away from the capital, Brazzaville.

The 30km bumpy road that connects Maloukou to the main road to Brazzaville makes access to the village difficult. The residents of Maloukou make their living on agriculture and also do some fishing but due to lack of market access they hardly sell their products.

The residents of Maloukou now see a glimmer of hope after they heard of a planned bridge construction project that connects Congo-Brazzaville with its neighbor the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The grand bridge will connect Maloukou with a small town in the DRC, which is also called Maloukou, just across the Congo river that borders the two countries. It is only a 20-minute boat ride that takes to cross the river to reach DRC’s Maloukou. But immigration issues make the travel to DRC complicated.

Residents should first go to Brazzaville to secure visa from the DRC Embassy and come back to the village and cross by boat. That will take a prolonged time and money which the residents of Maloukou cannot afford.

Chdga said the residents of Maloukou are very excited about the planned bridge project. “We hope that the bridge construction project will create jobs. And when it is completed we will have access to the markets,” he said. “We are eagerly waiting for the launch of the project,” he added.       

The Maloukou village chief, Nguntsele Rolf, says the people of the Republic of Congo and the DRC are the same. “It is only the big river that divides the people. Going to the DRC Maloukou for social engagement like weddings or better medication is a big challenge,” Rolf said. “We have a very fertile land but we do not have market to sell our agricultural products,” he added.

Rolf believes that the planned Maloukou bridge project will improve the living standards of the people of both the Republic of Congo and the DRC. “We are very happy about the project. We have many expectations. It will create employment opportunities and market access. The people living on both sides of the river can trade. Our people will have access to markets,” he said.

The Congo River is the biggest river in Africa with a width of 4-5 km. At Maloukou, the future site of the grand bridge construction site it is only 1.5km wide.

According to Batdunguidio, an official at the Ministry of Works, all the studies on the bridge construction project have been completed. Batdunguidio said with the help of the African Development Bank (AfDB) the feasibility study, technical and legal studies have been conducted. The studies are now structured.

The 1.5km bridge construction project, which will be jointly undertaken by Congo-Brazzaville and the DRC, will cost USD 550 million. The bridge will have three kilometers access road from the Republic of Congo and 6.5 km access road from the DRC side.

Batdunduidio said the bridge will have road and railway line that would allow free movement of people between the two brotherly nations. “It will spur economic and social development in the two countries,” he added.

The Bridge through an access road will be linked to the Congo Corridor and Maloukou Especial Economic Zone. The Maloukou Especial Economic Zone was built six years ago but is not yet fully operational due to lack of electric power supply. 

The governments of the Republic of Congo and DRC have agreed to jointly build the bridge and financiers like the AfDB have shown interest to finance the project. Work on the project is scheduled to commence in end of 2020.

The Maloukou Bridge project is one of the major infrastructure development projects being promoted by the African Union Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

According to Yagouba Traore, Chief of Infrastructure Information Unit Infrastructure and Energy, the Maloukou Bridge Project is one of the PIDA priority projects. 

Lack of infrastructure is not a peculiar problem to Maloukou. Africa in general has a poor infrastructure that deprives its people of good living standard. Lack of infrastructure makes movement of people challenging, hampers trade and investment leaving millions of Africans to languish in poverty.

With the view of addressing Africa’s infrastructure challenges, the AU Infrastructure and Energy Commission launched PIDA in 2012. PIDA is a continental infrastructure development initiative formulated by the African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with its partners the UNECA, NEPAD and the AfDB.

At the PIDA Journalists Network Workshop held from September 3-5, 2019 in Congo-Brazzaville Traore said PIDA was defined with the list of 51 priority programs and projects. “When these projects are implemented the infrastructure deficit in Africa will be significantly reduced,” he said. 

PIDA is a program dedicated to facilitating continental integration through improved regional infrastructure. PIDA was approved by the AU assembly during the 18th ordinary session of the AU in Addis Ababa, which was held from January 29-30, 2012.

The PIDA Priority Action Plan (PIDA-PAP) which extends to 2020 comprises 51 programs and projects divided into 433 projects covering transport, energy, ICT and transboundary water sectors.     

When PIDA was adopted in 2012 the program was designed in three phases-first phase from 2012-2020, second phase from 2021-2030, and third phase from 2031-2040. The total capital investment required to execute the infrastructure development program is estimated at 360 billion dollars. The first phase alone needs 68 billion dollars.

Since its inception in 2012, PIDA has contributed to the development of 16,066km of road network, 4,077km of railway, and 3,506km electric power transmission line. In the ICT sector, 17 countries were connected with regional fiber optic cables.

According to Traore, 35 percent of the 433 PIDA projects have advanced. “About 145 infrastructure projects are either operational or are being constructed,” he said. The other projects are at an early stage.

The launch of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), the development of the SMART Corridor guide line and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line are the milestone achievements of PIDA projects in the transport sector. In the energy sector the Kaleta Dam (240MW) in Guinea and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia are some of the major PIDA projects.

Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme (Zambia-Zimbabwe), Chalinze -Dar es Salaam Road (Tanzania), Ethiopia-Sudan Power Transmission Interconnector, Lamu Port Project (Kenya), Maloukou Tréchot Rail Road Bridge (Brazzaville-Kinshasa), Ruzizi III Hydropower Project (Rwanda-DRC), Zambia-Tanzania Power Transmission Interconnector are some of the PIDA projects which are in the pipeline.

The implementation of this mammoth program has never been easy. According to Traore, lack of capacity and funding are some of the major challenges PIDA has faced. “Private sector involvement is limited. Some of the projects have not been conceptualized,” he said. 

To address capacity issues PIDA secured support from the AfDB in building the capacities of member states in implementing the program. To enhance the engagement of the private sector PIDA has formed business people network. “We have set up a service delivery mechanism that would help in conceptualizing our projects that are at an early stage,” Traore said.   

As the first phase of PIDA will end in 2020 the second part is being drafted. To prepare PIDA II various studies have been commissioned on the socio economic developments of the continent. “We are studying the economic and demographic growth that would enable us forecast the infrastructure needs of Africa in the next ten years,” Traore said. “All relevant stakeholders will participate in the preparation of the PIDA II documents,” he added.

PIDA will follow integrated corridor approach among transport, energy, water and ICT sectors. Youth, gender, as well as economic zones will be considered in the PIDA II program development. The PIDA priority project selection criteria will also be defined.

The studies will be completed by January 2021 and the list of selected projects would be submitted to member states for adoption.    

The PIDA Week will be held in November 2019 in Cairo Egypt. The annual event will bring various stakeholders including the public sector, private sector and civil society organizations to discuss the implementation of PIDA projects. During the forum five priority PIDA projects would be showcased.

“The PIDA Week is an important forum to promote the PIDA projects and create direct contact between owners of the projects and financiers,” Traore said. PIDA forges partnership with the public and private sector. In addition to NEPAD, UNECA and AfDB, GIZ, the German aid organization, provides support to PIDA. “AfDB works with us daily. They provide project funding. The GIZ provides technical support to us. They are closely working with us,” Traore said.  

According to the AU, as about 15 million Africans of working age enter the labour market every year, PIDA plays a critical role in creating new jobs. So far PIDA projects have created 113,000 direct and 50,000 indirect jobs.  

The future of young Africans like Pmpiki Chdga of Maloukou hinges on the successful implementation of PIDA projects. “We are waiting for the realization of the Maloukou Bridge project. We heard that it is a very good project,” Chdga said.