Tell us about your infrastructure work – which is going to be a major theme at this year’s meeting

Africa’s economic transformation is always going to be held back if it cannot solve some of the deep rooted problems affecting its ability to move goods and people around the continent. The problem is especially acute when it comes to coordinating infrastructure across borders, which is especially a problem for land-locked countries, and making the case to attract the financing needed to develop the infrastructure. But this is more than just an economic imperative; mobility is absolutely critical for people’s livelihoods and quality of life.

Building roads isn’t that complicated…how come this has become such a chronic problem?

It isn’t the construction that is the problem, nor even the lack of money. The private sector wants to play more of a role in funding infrastructure and governments want this too, but the problem is in the small print – how to bring the public and private sectors together in a way that works for both parties.

Explain?

In the past, too many projects just havent managed to get off the ground for seemingly simple reasons, such as the lack of financing for feasibility studies, which typically do not deliver a return on investment but which are absolutely crucial before any ground can be broken. A large part of our work has been in identifying these bottlenecks and then bringing people together around a table to do something about them.

What’s special about this year?

This year is important for a number of reasons; firstly we have identified a number of these roadblocks and we now have a clear idea not only of the best model for funding these massive projects going forward but also who is willing to invest in them. But there is one other reason why timing is critical: we have currently a narrow window of opportunity in which infrastructure is very attractive to long term investors: it is crucial that we convert this interest into action now before the market turns and interest rates start rising again.

What one outcome do you want to see come out of Cape Town?

Now that we have identified potential projects, investors and business models, the important challenge is to hand over this work to the appropriate organizations to oversee the next stages. Infrastructure will remain a strategic priority for the Forum and we will remain here to support but its time for Africa’s governments, businesses and development agencies to use this momentum and carry it forward.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Alex Wong is Head of the Centre for Global Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Alex Wong speaks at last year’s World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, Nigeria.