Infrastructure critical for Africa’s growth: Zuma

3 February 2014

Well-functioning infrastructure, a rejuvenated agricultural sector and an end to conflicts will be critical for Africa to achieve its full economic growth potential, South African President Jacob Zuma said in an interview on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Friday.

“We need to create the infrastructure, in every respect, roads and rail and ICT, so that we are connected and that when we put our economies together, there is an easy flow of goods within the continent,” Zuma said.

With Africa seen as one of the world’s fastest growing economic hubs, Zuma said that the demand for key infrastructure has been identified as a priority by the AU.

“There was a very encouraging report that came out when we were in the plenary about the projects we are embarking on. The majority of the projects are already funded and are already going on, so we are not talking about what we think we need to do – we are very specific about what kind of infrastructure we need.

“We come from a colonial past, wherein we were divided into many countries with very hard borders, and there was no ease of movement. Therefore, the issue of infrastructure to connect our countries becomes very critical.”

Zuma said the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) was a statement that African countries could no longer depend on outside donors for their survival.

“We are now saying the time has come for us to stand on our own. We have the resources to turn around our situation, and that is the direction we are moving towards.”

Zuma said that linked to infrastructure development was the issue of agriculture and food security for the continent. All heads of state at the summit stood united in their belief that Africa was capable of producing enough food for its people and exports, he said, noting that the AU had declared 2014 as the year of agriculture and food security, and has promised to invest in scientific research and agricultural technology in the next year.

“The discussion was [around] what we do as countries jointly to realise the goal of producing enough food. Of course, at the heart of all this will be the land question, because you need the land to produce. But everybody agreed we have to produce more than we have been producing for ourselves [to] develop agriculture as an economic activity.”

Emergency troops, APRM report

Zuma confirmed that seven countries had signed up for the mooted temporary interventionist force that the AU wants to use to intervene in crisis situations that continue to engulf parts of the continent.

Referred to as the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), the force would enable countries to voluntarily contribute troops for an immediate response to crises in the short term, while allowing for a political solution to the crisis.

Zuma said practical modalities for the operationalization of ACIRC were discussed at length at the summit.

“It does not compel any country. Those that see the need and those who have the capacity will be able to contribute, and that has been a very important development in this summit.”

On the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) progress report on South Africa, which was released last week, Zuma said the document painted a clear picture of where South Africa was 20 years after it attained its democracy.

The report, which was well received by the summit, shows that South Africa has over the past decade progressed extensively in many aspects, including economic development, social security, health, governance and infrastructure development.

“There were questions that we were asked in previous reports, for instance the question of xenophobia and what we were doing about it. We answered those questions and [stated] what we were doing. By and large, we are hearing that South Africa has done very well.”