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Renewed impetus to improve Africa’s infrastructure 

Renewed impetus to improve Africa’s infrastructure 

The African Union Commission (AUC) held a policy dialogue conference on facilitating the implementation of the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) from September 24 to 26, 2019 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The main purpose of the Policy Dialogue was to provide a platform to member states to engage on domestic resource mobilization, acceleration of current projects and contribution to the development of PIDA II. More than 350 delegates representing 47 countries participated in the conference. At the end of the three-day conference held at the Sipopo Convention Center Cheikh Bedda, Director Infrastructure and Energy at the AUC and Robert Lisinge, Chief of Energy, Infrastructure and Energy Services at the UNECA, gave a press conference. Kaleyesus Bekele of The Reporter, who attended the conference, compiled the question and answer session. Excerpts:

Question: What is your impression on the concluded PIDA Policy Dialogue meeting?

Cheikh Bedda: This is a critical moment for PIDA program as we are transiting to the second phase of PIDA. We had very fruitful discussions on the second phase of the program. Member states actively participated in the discussions. The delegates demonstrated firm commitment towards the implementation of PIDA program. We had tough debate but at the end of the day we came up with very comprehensive recommendations. We also agreed on the recommendations. During the process of elaboration of PIDA we are giving a huge emphasis to the interaction of the member states. The role of the media in this regard is very important. The media can sensitize the PIDA program among member states and communities. The year 2020 will be very exciting moment for all of us.  

Robert Lisinge: UNECA has stood side by side with the AUC and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in promoting PIDA since its inception around 2008. There was some skepticism at that time the idea of PIDA was introduced. After ten years, I am happy to say that some progress has been made. More than 35 percent of the projects of PIDA PAP 1 have been implemented. Yes, we can do more but I think I am living Malabo satisfied. We have put in place the building blocks for a more effective PIDA PAP 2. We have discussed the issue of focal points and national teams for the second phase of PIDA. We also discussed the selection criteria for PIDA PAP 2 projects with the view to making the program more inclusive. In particular,the need to take more water and maritime projects on board and to integrate gender issues in the program was underscored. Going forward, I am confident that we will have a better program.

Looking back at where Africa was in 2012 in terms of infrastructure development would you say that it is worthy investment?

Cheikh Bedda: We are satisfied with ongoing implementation of PIDA PAP 1part one (PIDAI) but we are not satisfied enough. So, we could have done more. Now we are conceiving next phase in completely new basis with new corridor approach with new project selection criteria, the elements that determine all the infrastructure projects-how the member states handle the projects. It will also encourage our partners to invest in the projects.

The second important element is that we want to have a new phase of PIDA as an inclusive program where we will have a clear involvement of women, youth and we will have social oriented program. We will also have a component which will be big to supply rural areas with all needed service including electric city, rural roads, ICT and so forth. This is a new program PIDA II and the commitment that member states have shown give us confidence to work with full swing. We are assured that we are in the right track.

There is a lot of work that has been done so far. About 30 percent of the program has been achieved. Practically for 40-50 percent of the program we have available studies and commitment from our partners but we still can do more. We will do better in the second phase of PIDA.

What effort is being made in building climate resilient infrastructure development project?

Cheikh Bedda: In terms of building climate resilient economy we agreed that the climate resilience of the projects one of the project selection criteria which is something new. In PIDA I we did not give enough importance to this criteria. But now we have incorporated as an important component. Project which does not give emphasis on how to handle the climate resilience of the project will not be considered.

Some African countries have reached their debt ceiling. Isn’t this going to be a challenge to solicit more funds for infrastructure development projects under PIDA program?

Cheikh Bedda: I want to point out two elements. First, we need a lot of money to carry out the PIDA program. We think that to have regional and continental program can help member states to mobilize resources. Let us suppose that you have three countries are part of a regional or continental program you may find one of these three countries reach the debt ceiling but that may not be the case with the other two countries so they can help in bringing the required financing to fund the program. If we agree that we will have a regional program with many countries the shared responsibility, and guarantee will help you in terms of getting the funds from financial entities. This is one of the criteria we have to push for.

Robert Lisinge: The question on sustainability is a valid one. A way to deal with this issue is to promote private sector investment. Obviously, the infrastructure financing gap in Africa is so huge that governments alone cannot close it, even if they wanted to do so. We therefore need to encourage the private sector to participate in financing infrastructure projects.  However,there are issues with private sector involvement. For instance, we need to put in place an enabling environment for the private sector participation. This is particularly the case for regional projects which are complicated by the existence of different rules and regulations on investing in infrastructure projects in different countries. In essence, we need to harmonise policies and laws in different countries involved in cross boundary projects. This explains why UNECA has developed a model law for PIDA projects. The model PIDA law ensures that we have a common investment environment for infrastructure projects.

Some infrastructure development projects especially transboundary water projects instigate political tension among riparian countries. Does PIDA have some kind of harmonization mechanism that can help to prevent such disputes among states?

Cheikh Bedda: In Africa we have very good examples for this kind of program. Since 1970 we have had similar issues and it was solved through discussions between parties but also by putting by heart the interest of all parties. I think it is important to note that everything should take into consideration the national interest of all the countries involved. There is a similar example in Africa and we can learn from this example. At the AUC we are ready to play this role and show case a successful example.

In the course of the meeting I was referring to the Senegal river where you have Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal all of them are around this river and the water is coming from a mountain in Guinea but also at the end you have Mauritania and Senegal they survive with the water so they managed to have a process and system workable since the 1970s. They are using the water resources together in harmony. They have a common property on all the installations on the river. If you notice in this region these countries never had any war since independence. Why because they are linked each other.

For example, the water that supply Dakar is coming from this river and the electric city coming from Mali and so on. They also managed to have a channel of navigation. The interests of all the countries are take into considerations. Priority is given to some countries in some sectors. It is not the only example that we have in Africa. We have to build our mega projects but we have to take into consideration the issue of the environment. It is important to guarantee the peace in our continent and at the same time guarantee the development. As Africans we have nothing to learn from others because we have our own experience in the continent that can help us handle these types of issues.

As the AUC position we are ready to share these experiences and find solutions to these kinds of concerns.

Robert Lisinge: The issue of tension over transboundary projects can be explained by several factors, notably concerns about national sovereignty as well as costs and benefitsfor participating countries, which may be perceived to be different. A solution to this challenge is to demonstrate the benefits of cross-boundary projects for all participating countries. I think the integrated approach that we are adopting for the second phase of PIDA can contribute in addressing some of these issues. In the past, some countries perceived regional corridors simply as transit corridors for import and export of goods, with limited consideration of benefits for the local population. Now, we are bringing the rural dimension to PIDA. The idea is to link rural areas of production to regional corridors. This allows countries to see the benefits of regional projects from the perspective of the local population. In essence, we need to work hard to demonstrate the benefits of regional projects to all concerned countries.       

With regards to the environment, its protection is a priority of the United Nations. As you know, protecting the environment is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Specifically, SDG 9 deals with resilient infrastructure. We do know that there is an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions. This underscores the need to take these extreme weather conditions into consideration in the design of our projects. It is important to point out that while climate change affects roads, the converse is also true as transport infrastructure and services affect the environment through CO2 emissions.  

There are countries which did not sign the pending PIDA instrument. I would like to know the deadline you gave to sign those pending instruments. There is also a time frame you gave to member states to adopt the PIDA laws.

Robert Lisinge: I think you are talking about two instruments, which are not directly PIDA instruments per se, namely the African Maritime Charter and the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Norms and Standards of the Trans African Highways. Countries have not been given a timeframe to ratify these instruments but the issue is to have the required number of ratifications for the instruments to enter into full force. The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-African Highways, for example, will enter into full force as soon as 15 countries ratify it. However, countries could apply some of the articles or provisions of these instruments without waiting for them to enter into force. For instance,the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans African Highways has an annex on environmental issues that could help countries to build resilient infrastructure.

Cheikh Bedda: We had a discussion that we will put in the heart of project selection if the country has ratified the legal instruments. This would help us to speed up the ratification process.

There are some countries which were not represented in the Policy dialogue meeting. What is the reason and how do you ensure that such important meetings are attended?

Cheikh Bedda: There is no quorum despite the fact that we had 47 countries represented out of 55. This is a highest rate of attendance compared to previous meetings. You cannot have all the 55 member states in the same room at the same time. According to our experience the attendance was very good.

Have you considered the African diaspora contribution in funding infrastructure projects and also the locals?

Cheikh Bedda: Of course, we do. As we have explained in the course of the meeting that public money is not enough to finance these kinds of mega projects. We are obliged to proceed to mobilize the African diaspora and mobilize the local private sector and so on. To mobilize them we need a conducive environment. It will start with having a very strong organized institutional regulatory framework. This is what we are doing at the AUC. We are trying to create institutional structure to create rules that can help to attract. The second element is to have a well-established good governance projects in terms of tendering, procurement procedures and so on. We emphasized this aspect during our meeting. The PIDA part II as it is a regional and continental program, we will see some improvements in managing some programs and good governance which can attract the private sector.