Q&A: AUC's Bedda says reducing risk in infrastructure investment is key to African development

AUC Director Cheikh Bedda at the @africandomain event #2017PIDAWeek in Swakopmund, Namibia. Photo by: AU IED 

SWAKOPMUND, Namibia — Since 2012, the African Union has launched the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, or PIDA, as a continent-wide initiative to develop a universal set of policies and a program outline for the development of priority regional and continental infrastructure in transport, energy, information and communications technology, and transboundary water projects.

Five years later, the program — implemented through a partnership between the AU Commission, New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the African Development Bank — has dedicated itself to facilitating African integration by upgrading regional infrastructure. Last week, more than 300 stakeholders gathered for the third annual PIDA Week in Swakopmund, Namibia. During this time delegates discussed how to improve synergies and mobilize support in the implementation of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 infrastructure projects in Africa.

Five projects were highlighted during this year’s meeting as priority projects for investment, including an Abidjan-Lagos corridor, an Ethiopia/Sudan power transmission interconnector, and a hydroelectric dam along the Zambezi River, which passes through Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“The continent needs, as a matter of urgency, to scale-up capacity for project preparation in terms of resources, skills, and development of bankable project pipelines to create enough jobs and opportunities for the large African youth population entering the labor market,” Chiekh Bedda, director of infrastructure and energy at the AUC, said during the opening ceremony.

He said that policymakers, infrastructure experts, and the private sector have a critical role to play in training and skills acquisition to prepare local populations for the implementation of complex projects, as found in the more 400 projects comprising the PIDA portfolio.

On the sidelines of the meetings, Devex spoke with Bedda about how the PIDA platform catalyzes socio-economic growth and intra-African trade, and his role as advocate to garner political and private sector support for project implementation. Our conversation here has been edited for length and clarity.  

In Africa, a lack of infrastructure is often seen as slowing the overall development of the continent. Can you talk about the importance of accelerating PIDA infrastructure projects to promote development on the continent?

All stakeholders today agree that infrastructure is the basis of development. It will create jobs, it will integrate our economies, it will help us to use and benefit and profit from our natural resources. I think this is the belief of all stakeholders. Today, for example, 30 percent of PIDA’s programming are already implemented or under construction. I think that is a very good status for a starting point.

This program was launched in 2012; now we are moving to the next step. We will focus on job creation, gender balance — particularly how more women in the rural areas can benefit from corridors implemented under the PIDA umbrella — and how also we can increase the general benefits for all of society, for all of Africa. For this program we already have the support from partners. They are now putting in place some very interesting tools to minimize the risk for investment in Africa, and particularly in the private sector, so I think the picture is very clear for us.

In terms of implementation, over the past five years PIDA has greatly evolved and advanced on several regional infrastructure projects. Can you discuss what you feel PIDA has done successfully and what are some of the remaining challenges?

Of course, as I said before, we implemented many ports, many docks, and many transmission lines. With the implemented corridor programs, we created thousands of jobs. For example, when we look at one program, Batoka dam, we are expecting to create 40,000 jobs. That’s a huge amount of jobs. Let us be more focused on creating an enabling environment for the private sector to participate and be involved in programs.

A trend that we have seen in African infrastructure projects in recent years is an increasing presence of Chinese contractors who bring their own labor and materials. How can we build the capacity of local contractors to award more local contracts and support local businesses?

I’m not one of those who will say that we have to close our borders and make everything only our labor market. Because if you will not allow our technicians, our engineers to learn from others, who can develop our skills internally? If we are seeing Chinese, European companies, for me, it’s a very good indicator. It means we have made very good progress in terms of enabling environment for foreigners to invest in Africa. But we also have to ensure that there is a transfer of information and of competencies — and this component is very present in PIDA programs and our partnerships with the European and Chinese. We are always stressing this point about transfer of technology and transfer of skills from them.

One of the struggles for governments and project owners in the life cycle of large infrastructure projects is in project preparation. What advice can you give them in terms of how to better prepare their projects so they can be at a bankable state for investment?

It’s one of our focuses in this PIDA program. Earlier stage of project is very crucial period for our projects, and unfortunately up until now, we are not seeing a very strong involvement of states and countries in this earlier stage of preparation of projects. We have the NEPAD-IPPF project preparation facility with the African Development Bank to help countries with external money. Now, our partners are saying that we also need to see African public money invested.

We had a very important meeting last month in Addis Ababa and the conclusion of this meeting was very interesting in terms of sensitizing countries, particularly about how we can use public money to expand this facility. We are talking about if you will invest $1 in project preparation, you will save at least $70 or $80 in implementation. Clearly, you can see the benefits and I think countries are becoming more sensitized about this issue.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.