In one of the most anticipated side events during the African Development Bank’s annual meetings, the AFC Debate, the conclusion drawn was that infrastructure is much more than just about money. In a panel discussion which included Andrew Alli, President and CEO of the AFC, Dr Donald Kaberuka, President of the AfDB, Dr Ngozi Onkono-Iweala, Minister of Finance of Nigeria and also Dr Eleni Gabre-Madhin, Founder and CEO of the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, there was general concession that if infrastructure development hasn’t taken place as quickly as one would desire it’s because it’s a complex problem which needs reform and consensus at a government and regional level.
The theme for the debate was Africa transforming Africa, and Alli pointed that many infrastructure projects today are being implemented and financed by indigenous African institutions, citing the Main One undersea cable project as such. ‘The advantage is an African will have a much more nuanced understanding of what’s happening in Africa and how to overcome certain problems’ he went on to say, although he did mention that there needed to be better co-ordination amongst regional countries to facilitate administrative procedures such as the approval of licences.
Kaberuka did defend the track record of Nepad, another African led institution stating that it had helped Africa develop and create its own framework and that without it many projects that the Bank has financed would remain unknown.
What was also generally agreed was the size of the infrastructure gap, which, whichever way you see it, is a massive $50-$100bn annually. There is money out there and Africa needs to be better at mobilising the emerging sovereign wealth funds and the funds which are idle in other countries.
Gabre-Madhin concluded by agreeing with Alli and said that regional economic communities can create the necessary templates to scale up successful initiatives. She also mentioned the importance of Africa’s youth bulge which could be a force for good as much as a force for destruction, and mentioned that it is critical to engage the youth in policy making.
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