If there’s one thing that all the high level meetings held in Nairobi in the past 18 months have shown is that ‘African solutions to African problems’ is not just a pretty decorative phrase but a goal that can be achieved should we prioritise our needs and dedicate the right resources towards them.
TICAD, under the theme Advancing Africa’s Sustainable Development Agenda, tie d into the recently launched Africa Agenda 2063 – The Africa we want. In my opinion, it is not possible to have conversations on sustainable development that do not centre heavily on infrastructure. In Africa, infrastructure has played a key role in advancing other key sectors of the economy. But how much do we pay attention to this fact, and how much time and resources do we invest in infrastructure?
The Africa Infrastructure Index 2016 demonstrates that although many country register their improvements through huge investments and strengthening of their ICT sectors, there was slow growth in the transport and power sectors and even more dismal pace for water supply and sanitation infrastructure. Kenya moved 5 points up from number 23 in 2013, to 18 this year, a growth attributed to ICT and transportation improvements. However, overall the study says that East and Central African countries have demonstrated slow progress in critical areas such as sanitation and paved road density.
Despite the promise of mega projects that are well underway such as the SGR, other similarly important ones appear to have been put on hold or have stalled for instance; the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, the road annuity project, the JKIA Greenfield terminal just to name a few. Yet, the vision for infrastructure development should be the lifeline from which all other developmental plans materialise.
Infrastructure development is considered one of the largest global challenges of our time, in fact there is no bigger question for public policy worldwide.
Think about it. With efficient transport and energy facilities, we can solve some major challenges in our agriculture sector. Paved roads and reliable energy would go a long way in providing market access and improving food security by reducing post-harvest loss. Hence rural farmers will be able to use the profits to improve their livelihoods and the quality of food produced. And this is just one aspect of agriculture. We have a whole value chain of processing, packaging, input provision, recycling – which then ties into the manufacturing sector in a very intricate way.
Manufacturers will be able to get their raw materials in good time and at affordable costs thereby increasing their capacity to produce quality products that reach the market in a timely fashion. Producers will also be able to transport volumes of both raw material and product, without having to worry too much about the storage capacity because the movement of these items would be guaranteed. Infrastructure development will also play a huge role in the growth of our SME sector. Light manufacturers who are mostly SMEs will gain access to markets and create demand for their products beyond their geographical locations.
So by solving this one issue, we will be building other industries and uplifting the economic status of our country. Also, the social benefits of rural developments cannot be understated as the communities will be motivated to participate in civic and societal duties, because their contribution to nation building will not seem so abstract.
Another example is how infrastructure will stimulate the revamp of our curriculum. The investments and resources dedicated toward establishing fully functioning structures will spur the advancement and revamp of our engineering courses and vocational curriculum. Consequently, these fields will attract more young people who will continue to contribute to their advancement through quality innovative solutions. Infrastructure development will also encourage entrepreneurship and diversification, thereby creating more jobs and enhancing our competitiveness in the global market.
In short, Infrastructure development if done right is the linchpin that would launch sound developmental progress for all other aspects of our economy. Failure to invest means failure to grow and develop our social and economic fabric. The important thing to adhere to is time. We need to solve these challenges now in order to be better placed to combat future ones. Otherwise we will be unveiling old solutions to new, and more sophisticated problems. Should we complete the on-going projects in the set timeline then history will be on our side, when the people of this nation will rest assured in the economic stability of our country.
The writer is the Chairlady of Kenya Association of Manufacturers.