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Infrastructure Conference: Transport


African government officials and American investors meet next week in Washington to discuss how to improve the continent’s lagging infrastructure.

Among the topics will be the challenge of improving transport, including roads and rail. World Bank figures show that only about 13 percent of the continent’s roads are paved. Also, colonialism left Africa with roads and railways created mainly for exporting raw materials to Europe – and not for trading among and within African countries themselves.

Godwin Punungwe is a transport advisor at the Infrastructure Unit of NEPAD in Johannesburg. He told VOA English to Africa Service reporter William Eagle that because of the colonial legacy, it’s often cheaper to import commodities from overseas than to transport food from one part of Africa to the other.

NEPAD has developed an investment plan for the continent, and one of its goals is to improve both the infrastructure (such as railways, roads and ports) that helps export African goods and the infrastructure that helps ship goods within the continent.

Punungwe says the goal is in the plan’s Special Development Program. It focuses on improving infrastructure along certain demarcated corridors, such as cities or regions, that would support mining, tourism, or agriculture. Private investors would be invited to help develop up to 12 such zones.

“(One of those zones) is the Maputo Development Corridor between South Africa and Mozambique, where, as result of this development corridor and synchronizing the investment climate within the corridor, we wound up with a road built between South Africa into Maputo [Mozambique], all built by the private sector on a toll road basis. As a result, we have also had investments in a gas pipeline in the corridor of over one billion dollars. Other investments in that corridor are now amounting to five billion dollars since 1996.”

Another, he says, would link the Inga Dam on the Congo River to a port in Kinshasa, about 225 kilometers away.

“There are vast minerals within the DRC and we are looking at special development corridors along the Congo River up to the port, including the area where we have the Inga Dam. We are talking about developing the Inga as part of the corridor and agriculture potential…and minerals…within the corridor, [such as] iron and manganese.”

The project, he says, would require private investment to help build the railways that would bring the mineral from the interior to the coast for export.

Punungwe says other infrastructure projects under consideration by NEPAD include a bridge between Senegal and Mali and another between Senegal and the Gambia.