Public-Private Partnerships Needed for African Infrastructure

Africa infrastructure
Africa is currently in an infrastructure boom

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has recommended partnerships between governments and private companies to build large-scale transportation projects in Africa.

“Governments can only do so much. We also need strong commercial partners to collaborate with us on major projects,” LaHood said at the U.S.- Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, known as the AGOA Forum, in Washington June 14.

He cited two success stories that he said can serve as models for African countries.

In South Africa, the government worked with private companies to build the first high-speed rail service, the Gautrain, which connects Pretoria, the capital, with Johannesburg, the economic center of the country. The final section of the train service spanning the 80 kilometers between the two cities opened June 7. The Gautrain is expected to carry 100,000 passengers a day.

LaHood also mentioned the rapid bus system in Lagos, Nigeria, which he said is the first bus system in Africa that allows passengers to avoid traffic congestion. The secretary said the Nigerian government financed the infrastructure costs, such as road construction, while the private sector financed the buses, bus depots and maintenance facilities. The project created 2,000 direct jobs and moved more than 170 million people in its first three years of operation.

“Successes such as these set an example of how you build a 21st-century transportation network at home,” LaHood said.

He said the United States has the same goals as African countries: “grow our economies and expand trade.”

Assistant Transportation Secretary Susan Kurland said a number of U.S. federal agencies work in African countries to help them improve their transportation systems: the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. These agencies work not only with individual governments but also with regional groups; transportation safety is the main concern.

“When we provide technical assistance and grants, one of our main aims is to help other countries improve compliance with international standards for safety and security,” she said.

For investments in transportation infrastructure to pay off, the governments involved must be committed to maintaining the infrastructure after it is completed. “One of the most important lessons learned is that commitment from the highest levels of government is critical for achieving success,” Kurland said.

The director-general of the ministry of tourism, industry and energy in Cape Verde, Antonio Baptista, said his country’s participation in the Safe Skies for Africa program has had a big, positive impact on Cape Verde’s trade and tourism. He said after Cape Verde met safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, people felt safe to travel there, bringing in more tourists and business travelers.

Leocadia Zak, director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, described her agency’s work in conducting feasibility studies and introducing governments to private-sector companies to build integrated transportation systems involving road, rail, sea and air links.

Rwanda’s minister of trade and industry, François Kanimba, said Africa is the most fragmented continent in the world, with many landlocked countries burdened with huge expenses in getting their products to overseas markets. He said in Rwanda, for example, it costs about $3,000 to transport one shipping container to the port of Mombasa, Kenya, on the Indian Ocean. The cost for Rwanda is significantly higher than for countries with coastlines, Kanimba said. He called for an international initiative to help Africa build its transportation infrastructure, similar to the effort made to rebuild Europe after World War II.