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Infrastructural Boom Spreads Across Southern Africa

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By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE (IDN) – Waving a red cloth tied to a stick while signalling vehicles to stop, 35-year old Denford Muzvidziwa who dons blue overalls and a white helmet, joyfully busies himself on the Harare-Mutare high way which is still being upgraded.

For over a decade after he completed a degree in Social Work at the University of Zimbabwe, Muzvidziwa has never found a formal job that suits his qualification, but he is happy with his new found job in the construction sector, saying the job nevertheless earns him some bit of money to caution him in the face of this country’s fledgling economy.

“I am happy, thanks to the government which committed itself to dualise this road. Now I am able to get some money to support my family. I can’t talk about my university degree because really there are no jobs and so with some life in the infrastructure area, people like me can at list get something to do,” Muzvidziwa told IDN.

In line with the UN goal nine on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation, Zimbabwe undertook to upgrading and modernizing its main high ways like the Harare to Bulawayo road and the Harare to Mutare road and several other routes in the country.

It is not Zimbabwe alone that has taken the initiative to give a facelift to its infrastructure. In fact, more Southern African nations apparently seem to be making strides in achieving the UN goal on infrastructure.

Even countries like Angola, Zambia and Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana, are making headways.

To development experts like Heather Maungwe based in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, the entire Southern African region is just awakening from underdevelopment.

“The truth of the matter is that most Southern African nations suffered underdevelopment for many years owing to corruption in their governments and obviously as development reaches the region, it is its infrastructure that first needs attention before other developments may occur,” Maungwe told IDN.

At a cost of over half a billion dollars, Zimbabwe is looking forward to boost its electricity generation capacity with the bolstering of the Kariba hydroelectric power plant adding an additional 300 MW, thanks to China's Sinohydro company which is busy expanding the facility.

Currently, Zimbabwe relies on major power imports from neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique, getting 100 megawatts from the latter while it also receives 300 megawatts from the former.

Meanwhile, faced with incessant droughts, the Zimbabwean government last year finished the construction of the Tokwe-Mukorsi dam, now the country’s largest inland dam with an 89,2 metre high dam wall. The dam is poised to bolster irrigation projects in the drought-prone southern region of this country.

"If we see it put on a better trajectory, there's huge potential in Zimbabwe. There has been decay, obviously, through the policies of the last 20 years, but it could be on a much stronger growth path, and that could transform the country and the southern region," Stuart Culverhouse, director at investment bank Exotix Limited, told CNBC in November 2017.

This was after Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe had resigned from power following a military operation codenamed Operation Restore Legacy.

Turning to Angola, in Laúca, on the river Kwanza, workers there have been busy building the biggest dam currently under construction in Africa at a cost of 5.4 billion dollars, a dam which is 156 metres tall and also more than 1.2 kilometres wide.

"The Laúca dam has a production capacity of 2,070 megawatts. That's enough to supply a city of 8 million inhabitants. Laúca will double energy capacity in the country." Helder Jorge Pedro, a civil engineer from Odebrecht, the Brazilian company contracted to build the dam, told Euronews in June 2017.

In Luanda, the Angolan capital, stands out another symbol of the country’s big infrastructure projects: its new airport.

Taunted to be the country’s biggest infrastructural projects so far, the airport has seen in total of 3.8 billion dollars being invested in it.

Thanks to Angola’s new airport infrastructure, Diógenes Manuel S. Silva, an administrator at The National Company of Airports Exploration and Air Navigation (Enana), has expressed optimism of an increase of flight passengers.

"We will go from 3 million to 15 million passengers per year. This airport will be amongst the top three in Sub-Saharan Africa, in competition with Lagos and South Africa," Silva told Euronews.

Even then, in the last few years, new road and rail links, but also entire cities, have sprung from the ground in Angola, which Silva said ‘is key to the country’s economic transformation.’

As Sub-Saharan Africa spends some $6.8 billion a year on paving roads, in 2016 a paved trunk road was set to connect Cairo and Cape Town for the first time, The Economist reported.

Meanwhile, Africa’s road network has grown by an average of 7,500km a year over the past decade, a sharp increase from previous decades.

And among those pouring tar fastest were Tanzania and Lesotho, with annual increases of about 15 percent and 24 percent respectively, according to the African Development Bank (ADB).

In 2015 in Zambia, at a meeting organized by the National Council for Construction (NCC), the council’s Executive Director Charles Mushota indicated that the country’s construction industry was poised to continue its pattern of growth with funds from the government being allocated to infrastructure development projects.

According to the then Zambian Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications, Yamfwa Mukanga, development of Zambian infrastructure experienced positive and productive growth four years ago, with reports indicating that growth reached as much as 17.5 percent.

As such, ongoing infrastructure projects in Zambia include houses, roads, schools, health facilities, and office spaces accommodation across the country as well as a five-year strategic plan from the National Airports Corporation (NAC) to upgrade and expand its four airports and navigation services to meet internationally recognized standards and services.

And as Zambia’s infrastructure booms, in September 2017 the country launched construction of a China-funded mega-road project that connects the southern and central parts of the Southern African country to the country’s mining towns in the Copperbelt province.

Zambia's construction of the 321-kilometer Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway, including the bypass roads in Kabwe and Kapiri Mposhi, and 45 kilometers of the Luanshya-Fisenge-Masangano Road will be done by China Jiangxi Corporation for International Economic and Technical Cooperation (CJIC) at a cost of 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, a loan from China's Exim Bank.

The road, to be constructed in four years, will create over 3,000 jobs for local people, according to the Zambian President Edgar Lungu.

However, amidst Southern Africa’s booming infrastructure, development experts are sceptical.

"Most of the infrastructural projects are being undertaken by little known Chinese companies working alongside subcontracted ill-skilled indigenous-owned companies here with links to influential politicians in the country and as a result governments across the region are being short-changed because at the end of the day, shoddy jobs are being done on the infrastructural projects," Edwin Mwansa, an independent development expert based in Lusaka, Zambia, told IDN.

But despite mounting scepticism from development experts such as Mwansa, in Mozambique, since last year, the longest suspension bridge in Africa, is under construction.

The $725 million bridge is funded by the Export-Import Bank of China and the Mozambique government and the project is being implemented by the Empresa de Desenvolvimento de Maputo Sul (EDMS), a government body set up to develop a number of key infrastructure projects centred around the Mozambican capital.

Yet the middle of last year, a South African firm, Capital Projects, announced plans to invest $780 million to fund the construction of a highway linking Mozambique's southern flagship tourism province of Inhambane and South Africa as part of a strategic bid to boost tourism and trade between the two countries.

As infrastructure makes wonders in Southern Africa, experts say it is time for global investors to catch the fat worm in the region.

"The boom in Southern Africa's infrastructure construction gives golden opportunities to willing investors to shine of which the infrastructural boom here is set to continue to provide investment opportunities across transport, power and industrial construction for some years to come," Nkululeko Zwane, a South-African economist based in Johannesburg, told IDN.

And as the fat worm is caught, it may also be a moment to smile for jobless Africans like Zimbabwe’s Muzvidziwa.

“During the time improvements are still being wrought on our country’s infrastructure, it gives me a moment to breath as I get casual jobs to do to enable me feed my family,” Muzvidziwa said.

[IDN-InDepthNews]

 

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