We all know that Africa needs new and improved infrastructure. But assessing exactly where are the gaps, which gaps should be plugged first and what strategies can ensure efficient use of resources is a much trickier task.
NEPAD has set out to answer those questions through two key and complementary pieces of work: The Medium to Long Term Strategic Framework (MLTSF) and Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic Study (AICD). The African Development Bank manages the first through its NEPAD and Regional Integration Department in Tunis while the second, which was commissioned by the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, is being implemented by the World Bank.
In a move that shows joined-up thinking in the development finance world, the two studies share the same steering committee. Data from the AICD will be essential in developing the MLTSF.
Q. What do you expect to achieve through the MLTSF and how does it build on NEPAD’s Short Term Action Plan (STAP)? Don’t we have enough studies already?
Infrastructure development in Africa remains at levels way below desirable. While individual projects are implemented by countries, Africa has no common strategic goal or achievable targets for infrastructure development. The MLTSF aims to redress this. It will establish a common vision among stakeholders in African infrastructure and a robust strategic basis and methodology for achieving that vision.
The MLTSF complements STAP but it is not about projects. It aims to provide a strategic basis for defining infrastructure development, especially at the regional and continental levels. It looks at the broader picture and seeks to provide clear answers to some of the key questions in infrastructure development on the continent: where are the gaps and what strategies need to be in place to tackle them? Two of the MLTSF’s outputs will define criteria for inclusion of projects in regional programmes and the NEPAD framework on the basis of the defined strategies, and facilitate their prioritisation.
Q. What stage have you reached with MLTSF?
The first phase of two is nearing completion. It comprises a review of STAP and definition of measures to accelerate its implementation, identification of infrastructure development gaps and development of the Africa Infrastructure Database. Regional stakeholder consultation workshops on the outputs of the first phase were held in May this year. Sector stakeholder consultations for the four infrastructure sectors of energy, transport, water, and ICT will be held in Addis Ababa in July and these will lead to the finalisation of the first part of the MLTSF study.
Phase two, which will start in September and is scheduled for completion by April 2008, will define goals and strategies for closing the gaps.
Q. How will you determine what is the ‘right’ level of infrastructure?
Through benchmarking we are looking at middle income countries around the world and making cross-country comparisons within Africa. The goals we set ourselves must be realistic and achievable.
The definition of indicators that was carried out in phase one is crucial for the benchmarking exercise and will enable us to measure progress and the impact of the NEPAD infrastructure programmes. One of the reasons we are coordinating with the AICD is to ensure that both studies work with the same indicators. The AICD study is serving as a key input into the MLTSF study and has been important in the definition of the indicators in the MLTSF study.
Q. Regional Economic Communities (RECs) had a key role in STAP yet have limited ability to implement projects. What about MLTSF?
The RECs are the building blocks for NEPAD and hence have key roles as coordinators and facilitators, which is essential since we have 53 countries to deal with. RECs should not be considered as project implementers, but through their strong relationships with member states, REC Secretariats provide a platform for addressing implementation of the NEPAD infrastructure programme.
To accelerate infrastructure development we need capacity-building at all levels, from countries and RECs up to the NEPAD Secretariat and the African Union. An infrastructure specific "Capacity Building Fund" is being set up within the framework of G8 support for NEPAD and will eventually be incorporated in the Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility.
Q. What are the core objectives of the AICD?
The AICD is a country-level study aimed at providing essential data in three main areas: fiscal cost of infrastructure, assessing how much public money goes into infrastructure; infrastructure investment needs for each country in terms of social and economic demand; and infrastructure sector performance, assessing whether infrastructure already in place is effective.
Q. Who will use the studies when they are finished?
MLTSF will bring together for the first time key information on Africa’s infrastructure and set out strategies, road maps and action plans to tackle Africa’s infrastructure development in a structured and sustainable way. The target group includes countries, regional organisations including RECs, sector organisations, development agencies, the African Union, the NEPAD Secretariat and foreign and local private sector organisations.
The MLTSF study is designed to deliver practical tools. For example, earlier STAP reviews uncovered problems and made recommendations for flagship projects, but provided no direct guidelines on where to start in implementing them. The MLTSF will provide action plans for flagship projects, and road maps for implementation of the medium-term strategies proposed.
Second, the MLTSF will promote greater involvement of the private sector. The strategies developed will specifically recognise the different needs and potential contributions of players from small local private sector to large multi-nationals. We will also cluster African countries into groups depending on private sector participation and develop strategies accordingly.
Third, the MLTSF will help build an infrastructure database and linkages to other related databases around the world, a project already started at NEPAD Secretariat with support from MIGA. Currently, very little project documentation is available electronically and the database should also help to rectify this.
This Interview was originally published in www.africa-investor.com, July 07, 2007 © copyrights Africa Investor, July-August, 2007.