Managing Transnational Infrastructure Programs in Africa—Challenges and Best Practices (WEF): African Strategic Infrastructure Initiative

Related Expertise: Public Sector

Managing Transnational Infrastructure Programs in Africa—Challenges and Best Practices

African Strategic Infrastructure Initiative

By Philipp GerbertFabian BarthelTenbite Ermias, and Armin Lohr

Transnational infrastructure programs, such as cross-border railway networks and electricity distribution systems, can increase regional trade, prosperity, stability, and integration. That is part of the rationale of the Priority Action Plan of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA PAP), encompassing 51 programs and with an investment need of $68 billion up to the year 2020. Such programs face formidable challenges, however.

The challenges relate to financing, to technical and regulatory alignments (agreeing on the gauge width of a cross-border railway network, for instance, or on national axis-load regulations), and to matters of governance and even human relations. It is obviously very tricky to coordinate a program’s responsibilities and processes across several countries when there is a great diversity of languages, cultures, financial capacities, and political and regulatory environments. Matters are further compounded by national self-interest, as in staffing, and sometimes by a legacy of historical rivalry and mistrust.

The challenges can be overcome, however, through the skillful deployment of established best practices during the program's various phases. A framework of these best practices is presented in a new World Economic Forum report on the African Strategic Infrastructure Initiative, Managing Transnational Infrastructure Programmes in Africa—Challenges and Best Practices. The report, developed together with The Boston Consulting Group, is a guide for policy makers, sponsors, and managers that aims to facilitate the delivery of transnational programs punctually and cost-effectively.

Among the best practices listed are the following: a joint strategic vision for regional infrastructure and integrated national infrastructure plans; a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis assessing the impact in all affected countries; the issuing of a single transnational concession rather than several intranational concessions; a precise allocation of the costs, risks, and benefits to the participating countries; a rigorous and transparent tendering process; harmonization of regulations; and coordination of demand profiles and maintenance schedules. Another key success factor is to institutionalize cross-border collaboration—ideally by means of a strong program-management unit established through a special treaty among all the participating countries. Whether based on public or private resources or a mix of the two, this unit would oversee most of the phases of the program and build trust and cooperation among all the stakeholders.

The relevance and applicability of the various best practices must be determined on a program by program basis. Adopted and applied appropriately, they should remove most roadblocks to the implementation of regional infrastructure programs generally and help make PIDA a reality—with all the benefits that will bring to the region.

The original version of the report was published by the World Economic Forum.