African Infrastructure Dreams Back on Agenda

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013


Africa’s patchy infrastructure is not keeping pace with the continent’s economic growth.

Satellite photos of Africa at night show a place where light is concentrated overwhelmingly in the South – primarily South Africa – and in the North, with a sprinkling of lights on the west and east coasts (

This is just one visually arresting way to view the much larger problem of the continent lacking 21st-century infrastructure – from roads to airports to sewage and water services to harbors and rail connections. All are in desperate need of an upgrade.

The World Bank says only one in four people has access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the region will require more than US $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030.

This lack of modern infrastructure is clashing with Africa’s impressive economic growth in recent years. The continent will be home to seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world by 2015, according to the IMF. Yet still too much of this is a reflection of a booming resource economy, which sounds impressive in numbers, but still leaves much of the continent’s population living in a day-to-day world of underdevelopment and poverty.

Africa desperately needs further investment in infrastructure. The good news is that a mix of positive developments is coming together to breathe life into efforts to upgrade the continent.

One is a new campaign to mobilize Africa’s wealthiest to stump up the necessary funds to conduct feasibility studies to lay the groundwork for a big boost to infrastructure spending in the coming years. Another is a flurry of new pledges from the United States to spend more in Africa to increase access to energy – a necessary precondition to improvements to living standards. China, too, is to continue to grow its already substantial investments in Africa.

For innovators, better infrastructure across Africa will make it easier to export products, connect with markets and customers and gain access to new technologies and products available to others around the world.

The Made in Africa Foundation ( hopes to turn to Africa’s wealthy global community to help with funding the feasibility studies required to unleash a new wave of infrastructure spending and building across the continent.

Africa takes up 30 million square kilometers (UNEP), is home to approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population and has 60 per cent of the world’s potential agricultural land. Yet, just 34 per cent of Africa can be reached by road and only 30 per cent has access to electricity. One estimate has placed the cost of meeting Africa’s power and transport needs at US $28 trillion by 2050.

That is a vast amount of money, and nobody will commit those sums unless they know that work has gone into planning for this infrastructure and that people are thinking long-term. This is where the Made in Africa Foundation wants to make a difference: it is hoping to get Africa’s wealthy to contribute US $400 million to fund feasibility studies which in turn will kick-off a US $68 billion first phase in investment into roads, railways, ports and energy.

“In 2009, there was (US) $150bn (billion) available to spend, but no bankable infrastructure projects in Africa,” that these funds could be directed towards, said the Foundation’s George Brennan. “These figures should make us angry – the problem is not the availability of funding but the fact that projects are not in a condition to be funded.”

Just as a global diaspora of Indians and Chinese have been instrumental in economic growth and development in India and China in the past two decades, so it is hoped the same formula can be applied to the equally substantial, successful and wealthy African diaspora.

“African Americans spend (US) $1 trillion every year in their economy, but what do they spend on Africa? About 0.01 percent,” said Chris Cleverly, Director of the Made in Africa Foundation. “They have the wherewithal to make profound differences – personally, and by lobbying their pension funds, investment advisers and government to invest in Africa on the basis that it provides good returns.

“It was China and India’s diasporas that developed them – it is the same with Africa’s now.”

Ozwald Boateng (, the dynamic Ghanaian-descended London tailor who built his reputation on a quirky and modern take on traditional British bespoke suits, took the lead along with the Ugandan Prince Hassan Kimbugwe ( and former British barrister Chris Cleverly.

Boateng’s reputation and fame rose along side the buzzing British capital throughout the 2000s. But now he is reaching back to Africa to lead a campaign to substantially raise the level of investment in the continent’s creaking, antiquated or non-existent infrastructure.

He is trying to rally Africa’s wealthiest business leaders to contribute to creating a 21st-century African infrastructure of roads, railways, ports and power supplies. Made in Africa is tackling the fact many big global investors are willing to invest in Africa but find it difficult to do so. Much has to be done before an investor can come along and start, for example, building a new road network or airport. Local governments need to do the initial site survey and environmental impact studies and develop a larger vision for where they would like their country to go and how its cities are to develop.

The campaign got underway with a star-studded gala event earlier this year in Marrakech, Morocco, at the African Banker Awards ( It also comes with a film, Our Future, Made in Africa, to help explain the campaign and the company.

Some of the people who attended included Nigerian philanthropist Tony Elumelu, Angola’s richest woman Isabel dos Santos and Sudanese telecoms mogul Mo Ibrahim.

“This is the start of fully understanding what Africa can do for itself,” said Boateng. “The Chinese managed to build a railway across China; the Japanese have the bullet train – we need to get past thinking about why it’s difficult to create the roads and railways that Africa needs and just get on with it.”

The Foundation is being supported by the African Development Bank (, a long-time supporter of African infrastructure investment through loans and technical assistance.

An additional boost to African development comes from a recent U.S. government pledge to spend US $7 billion over the next five years in Africa to improve access to energy. Energy is the needed fuel for any significant improvements to human development over the long-term.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced “Power Africa” ( while he was in Cape Town, South Africa on his recent African tour. At the heart of Power Africa is the pledge to double access to power in Africa. According to medical journal The Lancet, 3.5 million Africans die every year due to indoor air pollution – a figure larger than those who die every year from malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. The pollution results from the fumes caused by burning fuel for cooking, warmth and light.

President Obama promised the funding to help governments in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. The funds will be used to boost access to electricity for 20 million households. Funds will also be used to help Angola and Mozambique modernize their energy export sectors.

Power Africa will act as a go-between to encourage links and deals between American energy companies and African partners.

On top of this, Power Africa is being supplemented by an additional US $10 billion in private sector contributions, including a commitment from the General Electric Company to bring 5,000 megawatts of affordable energy to Tanzania and Ghana.

In total, the US estimates it will take US $300 billion in additional funds to bring full power to sub-Saharan Africa.

For the past decade, the biggest change in Africa’s infrastructure story has come from the growing role played by China. China has become Africa’s largest single trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching US $166 billion in 2011 – a jump of 33 per cent from 2010. The total volume was valued at $198.5 billion in 2012 and is expected to surpass $380 billion by 2015.

And much, much more has been promised to come: China’s President Xi Jinping ( renewed a pledge to offer US $20 billion in loans to Africa in March 2013 (Reuters). Much of this is going to electricity-generation projects.

Published: July 2013


1) China in Africa: The Real Story is a blog tracking the relationship and digging up the real numbers on what is happening. Website:

2) The China-Africa Development Fund (CADFund) will invest US $2.4 billion in African projects, according to its President Chi Jianxin. Website:

3) Map of Africa’s major infrastructure: The image shows how infrastructure in Africa is growing rapidly, but is still largely concentrated in coastal regions and those with large mineral deposits. This means that rural and isolated populations often do not have access to modern energy and the benefits that it can bring. Website:

4) Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo. In the past 50 years, more than US $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Website:

Find more in Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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© David South Consulting 2022

By David South Consulting

David South Consulting is an international development media and consulting service. Designing human development and health. Editor and writer of Southern Innovator.



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