Right infrastructure to supercharge Africa’s economic expansion


View of a section of the Nairobi Expressway meandering through Museum Hill to Westlands on August 18, 2023. PHOTO | WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG

Africa has been through turbulent times in recent months but whatever the political events attracting sombre headlines, the underlying opportunity that the continent represents should not be ignored.

This chance is one of economic growth and prosperity, significant steps to a more sustainable future and all for the benefit of many who still need a hand up out of poverty and into a self-sufficient future.

The UN estimates that over half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. It says the population of sub-Saharan Africa alone is projected to double by 2050. This means that Africa will have the world’s largest working-age population soon after 2040.

A recent McKinsey report said, “Africa has the human capital and natural resources to accelerate productivity and reimagine its economic growth, which is, more than ever, vital for the welfare of the world.” It is an investment in Africa’s infrastructure that will supercharge its growth.

This will provide pathways (and railways and internet connections and pipelines) to a more stable period of consistent economic growth for a continent whose time has come. It is this vision that has become my mission and the one we plan to address.

Economic growth is too inconsistent across Africa, too many countries on the continent are reliant on their capital cities as engines of growth; agriculture is still the main source of income while business productivity is poor compared to all other global regions.

Consistent growth across all the drivers of the African economy will see a billion people achieve self-sufficiency in basic needs such as nutrition, energy, housing, healthcare, education, and other essentials.

Achieving this is of immense importance to all these people but will also be a further catalyst to growth and prosperity – a flywheel effect for future development.

Some good things are happening – and on a grand scale – the Kazungula Bridge connecting Botswana with Zambia; a new administrative capital for Egypt; subsea internet cables serving West Africa; the Eko Atlantic project transforming Lagos and Kenya’s rail overhaul.

But we need more of this type of investment in infrastructure if it is going to reap the rewards of our population surge.

Plus, we need lots of other types of infrastructure too. It is common for the backers of these large and impressive projects – China, the US and other foreign governments – to focus on physical connectivity.

This is useful in reducing reliance on capital cities as the engines of national or regional growth, but we need to go deeper into fundamentally changing the building blocks of the African economy.

Projects and companies that will form the backbone of the African economy in the coming years should be different from the past. Support should be spread over physical and socio-economic infrastructure across renewables, agriculture, ports and logistics, energy and technology sectors.

We need African businesses to invest too and step up by bringing local experience and local knowledge which will better understand opportunities and properly manage risk.

The writer is the CEO of Mainbridge an Africa-focused investment firm.