A former UK International Development Secretary of State and strategic adviser, Douglas Alexander, says further investment in infrastructure development could play a significant role in helping Africa eradicate poverty in the continent.
Speaking at Pinsent Masons’ inaugural Africa Infrastructure Conference, in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week, Alexander emphasised that infrastructure development in the continent had been too slow to ensure African countries reached their economic growth targets and eradicated poverty.
According to Alexander, Africa needed to attract more private capital for infrastructure development, as the considerable infrastructure-financing gap was growing.
He also urged African countries to use their limited resources wisely and strategically, such as on investing in the maintenance of existing infrastructure.
On his part, Gareth Haysom of the University of Cape Town African Centre for Cities agreed that infrastructure development was critical to spurring growth in Africa.
He stated that the infrastructure built in African cities in the next decade would shape these cities for the next 100 years.
Haysom challenged the perception that population growth in African cities was predominantly from rural migration, saying that while this does occur, much of Africa’s urban growth was the result of natural growth, with cities characterised by very young populations.
This youth bulge has implications for urban development, such as demand for education, new forms of education and new types of technology, as well as presenting new ways in which citizens use cities.
He also challenged the perception that African cities are largely poor, with many boasting an emerging middle class. However, this growth is precarious, which could challenge the provision of infrastructure, he said.
While there are still high levels of poverty in many African cities, he indicated that this does not affect the ability and willingness of citizens to pay for services, with many poor households actually paying more for services than those living in wealthier neighbourhoods.
Another perception dispelled was that there is a clear divide in African cities between the formal and informal. Haysom indicated that the line between the two was actually blurred in many cities, with most informal activities linked to formal activities.
Therefore, he emphasised that forward and backward linkages between formal and informal activities were essential for the functioning of cities, which can guide how infrastructure is developed.