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Smart infrastructure investments underpinned by solid governance mechanisms and strategic partnerships will be crucial to accelerating Africa’s regional connectivity and integration.

This is according to investors and development experts who attended the opening of the fourth annual Programme for Infrastructure Development (PIDA) Week in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The meeting, which is themed ‘PIDA Implementation through Good Governance – Realizing Smart Infrastructure for Africa’s Integration’, has drawn over 300 participants representing member states, regional economic communities, the private sector, development partners, project owners and developers as well as regional and United Nations bodies.

This year’s PIDA Week is focusing on the application of good governance principles for smart infrastructure project delivery and financial closure. Smart infrastructure involves the use of technology and applications to enhance, transform and manage infrastructure, leading to greater efficiency, productivity, and greatly simplifying construction processes.

“Good governance will determine whether Africa realizes her desire to develop and industrialise sooner, rather than later,” said Raila Odinga, former Prime Minister of Kenya and African Union High Commissioner for Infrastructure Development in Africa, during the opening session on Monday.

“Harmony of purpose is crucial across national jurisdictions so that we can accelerate the development of infrastructure and begin to fulfil the dreams of our founding fathers and the aspirations of our children,” Odinga added.

PIDA, a multi-sectoral programme covering transport, energy, transboundary water and ICT, is dedicated to facilitating continental integration in Africa through improved regional infrastructure.

Deliberations at this year’s meeting will focus on five sub-themes: project preparation, resource mobilisation and financing mechanisms; capacity development, job creation and empowerment; smart and integrated infrastructure development; innovation and industrialisation and policy, legal and regulatory frameworks.  

Moono Mupotola, African Development Bank’s Director for Regional Development and Regional Integration said that the Bank allocates US$1 billion to PIDA projects every three years.

“Ten% of the Bank’s funding in each infrastructure project is also dedicated to ensuring that there are coordination and harmonisation of policies and regulation across countries,” Mupotola said. She emphasised that inclusiveness – participation of local stakeholders – was crucial for project sustainability.

“The Bank is now constantly looking at governance, gender, policy and regulatory issues at every stage of infrastructure project development and delivery,” Mupotola said, during the High-Level Roundtable on Good Governance for Infrastructure Development, held Monday.

In his contribution, Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer, NEPAD Agency said: “Good governance is also about institutional quality and being pragmatic…The idea that Africa is a homogenous environment is totally and scientifically false. As technocrats and development technicians and strategists, we need to rethink our investment modelling as we go along. Our transactions and deals and development agendas must be relevant to national and cross-border realities.”

Mayaki emphasised that the evolving macroeconomic environment in Africa means that Africa’s development, business and political leaders “must begin to adopt new paradigms in the way they think and apply their capabilities to resolve the continent’s development challenges.”

“Financing and project bankability, governance and project management remain key challenges no doubt,” Mayaki said. “But strategic partnerships and good leadership can cure institutional weaknesses.”

Mobilising private investment for infrastructure development is another key item on the agenda. On day one, private-sector focused sessions were held on the Continental Business Network (CBN), the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), PIDA Water Priority Transboundary and Hydropower projects and the need for a ‘PIDA Quality Label’.

“Quality labelling will galvanise project progression and smart investments for African infrastructure,” Mupotola said. “There is, however,r a need now for all development partners and financiers to engage and consult deeply to develop a robust labelling mechanism.”