Why infrastructure is the mother of all solutions in developing countries

Why infrastructure is the mother of all solutions in developing countries

Building good road networks, bridges, markets and availing water sources can be the only major investment rural African communities need more than anything else. In most remote high production regions littered with gorges and unfavorable terrain, a simple bridge can be the root out of poverty. When financial institutions decide to invest in infrastructure, they will automatically render farming communities bankable as local farmers will be able to take their commodities to the market.

The power of infrastructure

There is no longer any doubt that you cannot build a modern economy without infrastructure. If most of the donor money that has gone into agricultural production in Africa had been carefully targeted at appropriate infrastructure many rural people would no longer be in the bottom of the pyramid. Irrigation schemes and dams are not very useful without a good road network, markets and reliable communication systems for linking production zones with the market and global village.

Welcome to the Chinese development model

Having carefully studied African problems, China has zeroed on infrastructure. Unlike the West which has always associated Africa with food aid and poverty, China has looked at African countries as business potential associates. Where Western countries have continued to extend their presence in Africa through development agencies and NGOs focusing on vulnerable communities, China has been inspired more by potential and what is already working. A key entry point has been and infrastructure-driven development business model where China builds infrastructure in exchange for minerals and other available resources. Such resources would otherwise remain untapped while the majority of Africans wallow in abject poverty.

What is the point of Africa boasting that it has more than 50 percent of the world’s arable land and more than 70 percent of the world’s minerals when such resources cannot improve people’s lives due to lack of infrastructure and other needs? In addition to the Angola model where China is building infrastructure in Angola in exchange for minerals and other resources, China has been involved in several progressive barter deals like the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA). Such models recognize the fact that African countries can turn available resources into long-term finance for infrastructure development.

The ICTs version of infrastructure

To the extent, ICTs are a fundamental component of infrastructure, China has already done more in advancing information and communication technologies in Africa more than companies from the West which have been in Africa for much longer. For instance the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei is accelerating digital inclusion and literacy across Africa and the whole world.  Noting that affordability is a key issue, China through Huawei has availed affordable smartphones and other gadgets to masses of people who will not afford expensive technologies from the West.

Meanwhile, COVID19 has accelerated the key features of Africa’s relationship with China. Due to the pandemic, e-commerce has blossomed as many people have moved online. Since Huawei is now the largest provider of ICT infrastructure and affordable Chinese smart phones in Africa if not the whole world, it means the whole e-commerce ecosystem is riding on Chinese infrastructure. This quite significant in several ways including a marriage of demand and supply between Africa and China.  As if that is not enough, Chinese companies are winning tenders for most infrastructure projects across Africa because they are more competitive.

Reassessments of relationships

Not ignoring the fact that China has a ravenous appetite for African commodities,  Africa countries are quietly grateful for Chinese presence in Africa because it is forcing Western countries and development agencies to re-assess their relationship with Africa. The West cannot continue to treat Africa as a basket case but a respectable source of resources that require respectful engagement and relationship building.

However, Africa should be aware that external players always come for their own interests. Chinese and Europeans are not going to negotiate deals that put them at a disadvantage.  This also calls for Africa to raise its capacity to negotiate favorable and increase trading with itself. Business and diplomatic relationships have to be carefully negotiated. Sadly, in spite of talk about the importance of cross-border trade, Pan Africanism and other ideologies, relationships between African countries are still not very good for trade and social development. African institutions like the AU, COMESA, ECOWAS, SADC and others have to work hard on these issues.  Civil society has to be also very active in forcing governments to take home-grown regional trade seriously.

 

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

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