African highways and information superhighways

The Africa and EU in Partnership official website. The Third Meeting of the Steering Committee of the EU-Africa Infrastructure Partnership took place in Tunis, on 7 April, and focused on ways to build and consolidate African infrastructure, which has been labelled a cross-cutting priority for the eight EU-Africa strategic partnerships.

Stefano Scarda of the European Commission gave an overview of the benefits of satellite-based augmentation systems (SBAS) which improve the accuracy, reliability and availability of satellite navigation.

Currently, the world is covered by five satellite systems, roughly covering the five continents. The European augmentation system – EGNOS, the pre-cursor to the ambitious Galileo global satellite navigation system – would be expanded to cover Africa, but not necessarily by launching additional satellites, he said, but rather through the deployment of ground stations throughout the continent which would relay information through existing European satellites.

Scarda stressed that by extending coverage to Africa, isolated airports could profit economically by adopting more modern technology to attract more intra-continental flights. There would be savings at a local level as maintenance for ground-based navigation systems would be replaced by a continental system. By expanding into Africa, EGNOS would contribute to the cutting of costs and ensure speedier reaction to humanitarian disasters, as more aircraft could use the safer landing systems that come with modern technology.
A stark realisation of the need for satellite coverage was explained by Scarda thus: “SBAS are predicted to make 87% of the African territory reachable from Europe within one day, compared with an estimated 37% today.”

The deployment of the SBAS throughout the African continent is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.

Plugging the digital gap

An update on the status of the ICT sector in Africa was given by Moctar Yedaly, head of telecommunications and post at the African Union.

In order to interconnect Africa and bridge the digital gap, as concluded by the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 and again in 2005, it was important to harmonise policies and regulations across the continent, he said.

The project to achieve this goal is a three-year programme funded by the EU with an approximate budget of €4 million, with 43 sub-Saharan countries set to benefit from it. There is ambition on both sides of the Mediterranean: the EU and Africa want to connect all African capitals to capitals of neighbouring countries through fibre-optic broadband cable by 2012. Subsequently, these will be linked to the rest of the world through underwater cables.

Yedaly likened the planned ICT revolution in Africa to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century, and insisted Africa cannot let this opportunity pass. He favoured a holistic approach to the strategic partnership, whereby investment in the energy and transport sectors, for example, would be matched by ICT investment. By seeing ICT as a public utility, it would receive similar funding from development financing institutions as other public utility infrastructures do.

PIDA and the infrastructure deficit

The critical role of infrastructure in Africa is widely recognised as contributing to sustainable development objectives. However, it was pointed out in the meeting that there is still an infrastructure deficit on the continent. In an effort to reduce this deficit, there have been a number of initiatives undertaken by the African Union, among which the EU-Africa Partnership was highlighted.

The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) covers four sectors: energy, transport, ICT and water, and is implemented in two steps: a study step and an implementation step. The expected results of the study phase include prioritising projects, developing a vision for future African infrastructure needs, financing and monitoring and evaluation. The PIDA budget, estimated at €7.8 million, is funded by a variety of sources: the European Union, the Islamic Development Bank, the African Water Facility and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Among the key features of PIDA are building a strong consensus while making good use of existing knowledge. The need for PIDA projects being African-owned was raised during the meeting whilst making sure that the overall programme still managed to be orientated towards the four policy sectors mentioned above.

PIDA was confirmed during the meeting as a strategic tool and reference for the continued development of infrastructure in Africa.

On the road: Trans-African highways

Dr Maurice Niaty Mouamba, an infrastructure and transport consultant, briefed participants at the meeting on two major transportation projects that are currently in the study phase: with one highway starting in Dakar, Senegal, and ending in Djibouti, and the other starting in Djibouti and ending in Libreville, Gabon. The projects receive joint funding from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Union Commission.

The Dakar-Djibouti highway has been in the study phase for six months, while the Djibouti-Libreville highway is in the final stage of the procurement process and is awaiting confirmation from the African Development Bank. Its study phase is expected to take 12 months.

Dr Niaty Mouamba indicated there was strong political willingness from all stakeholders to complete the trans-African highways as they would foster deeper infrastructure development in the region.

Download the Joint Statement of the Steering Committee meeting as well as the Roadmap for implementation of the Africa-EU Infrastructure Partnership revised at this occasion.

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