Written by Boaventura Mandlate
Translated by Francisco Chuquela
The African Union has decided to create a continental free trade area by signing an agreement formalizing the launch of the respective Treaty. In perspective, to increase trade within the continent. The agreement was signed by 44 of the 55 member countries at a summit of Heads of State and Government held in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, with Mozambique being one of the signatories.
This is another initiative that will only be a dead letter until the fundamental problem affecting the entire continent, which has to do with the weakness of infrastructure, is resolved.
It is enough to look at the situation in our region, where weaknesses in infrastructure represented and continue to be a determining factor for effective integration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
In our region, the cost of living could be reduced to about half if it were not for the fragility of infrastructure, which would significantly implies operating costs.
About fifty percent of our operating costs in our region result from infrastructure weaknesses. In other words, if SADC had quality or modernized infrastructures, operations would cost less than half and the cost of living would fall at least at the same level.
A drama that on the African continent isn`t only limited to the SADC region, but also to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is, of course, a challenge that must be faced by the SADC countries, including Mozambique, in consultation with development partners, to solve the huge infrastructure deficit in our region.
It can`t be denied, on pain of concealing an inescapable reality, that our region and the continent as a whole face tremendous challenges in improving its infrastructures, and development experts will certainly agree that deficiencies in infrastructure are to reduce the growth rate of African economies by one percentage point each year.
Statistics, albeit in deficit terms, show a significant number of citizens in the region who don`t have access to electricity.
Travel times on our roads and export routes are two to three times higher than in other destinations in the world, such as Asia, aggravating the price of goods traded. The power generation capacity isn`t more than half the levels reached in South Asia.
A simply dramatic picture for those who dream of a future that offers better life opportunities for SADC citizens.
To what extent can China’s example be successfully adapted to real Mozambique in particular and to the SADC region in general?
China’s growing role in financing infrastructure construction in Sub-Saharan Africa shows how new infrastructure partnerships are emerging, driven by strong economic growth in the region, a better business climate and growing demand for oil and other raw materials from China and India.
China’s successful experience of poverty reduction through rapid and sustained growth was a key factor. Nowadays, China’s growing commitment to infrastructures in Africa is helping to solve the continent’s huge infrastructure deficit. There are, of course, challenges that African nations and China need to address in consultation with development partners.
This is even recognized by the World Bank. The institution advocates that, working together, we can create partnerships in which we will all be winners.
The investment projects undertaken by the new lenders have no precedent, neither in scale nor in their focus on large infrastructure projects.
In a changing world and in a scenario of new players and new forms of financing, a learning process is being developed for investors and recipients.
This process will require increased national capacity to negotiate complex and innovative agreements and to establish appropriate environmental and social standards for these partnerships to succeed in the long term.
For now it is recommended that Mozambique should invest in the production chain, which presupposes a strategy involving sectors such as agriculture, industry and commerce, public works and housing, transport and communications.
Infrastructure investment is high, but there is no other path that will lead the country to the eradication of poverty and hunger, other than to allow an effective, efficient and full link between production areas and consumption centers.
With regard to customs taxes and procedures in our ports, simplification can`t be delayed any longer by combining modern equipment with organization, training and a favorable regulatory framework. This can only be achieved by a port policy that introduces a new model of port management that brings greater competitiveness and is attractive enough for shipowners and shipping companies. (x)