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Zuma to push Africa’s infra- structure needs at Davos
January 21, 2013, 9:00 am

South African President Jacob Zuma. [AP]

South African President Jacob Zuma. [AP]

The African Union (AU) has nominated South African President Jacob Zuma to speak on its behalf when he highlights Africa’s investment opportunities at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.

At the top of his agenda will be Africa’s urgent need to invest in its infrastructure.

In a Forbes article Poor Infrastructure Is Africa’s Soft Underbelly, Harvard professor Calestous Juma says that failing transportation systems have contributed to Africa’s inability to boost its agricultural productivity and feed its neediest.

Failure to access transportation networks, due to underdeveloped infrastructure, has resulted in isolating many from entrepreneurial activities.

“Poor road networks illustrate this point. African farmers without adequate road networks are condemned to grow not what they can eat, but what they can carry on their heads and eat quickly before pests destroy it. As a result, nearly half of the hungry people in Africa are farmers,” Juma writes.

Deloitte, an international audit, financial advisory, tax and consulting group, says that underdeveloped infrastructure will continue to hinder Africa’s growth potential. Developing infrastructure to meet growing market demands should be the continent’s long-term priority, Deloitte says.

However, the group predicts that Africa’s infrastructure sector will be a lucrative investment opportunity in coming years.

Africa has recently been in the crosshair of economic analysts who believe it is on the verge of profound economic growth if it can avoid conflict and upgrades its existing infrastructure.

Last week, IMF chief Christine Lagarde told leaders in the Ivory Coast that investments will increase in Africa with the promise of peace and stability.

“Conflict wreaks widespread economic havoc – not only in the country in question, but across neighboring countries too,” she said.

Four of the globe’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, fueled partly by growing Chinese large-scale investments in areas such as infrastructure and telecommunications.

According to the McKinsey Quarterly business journal “real GDP rose by 4.9 per cent a year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and ’90s. Telecommunications, banking, and retailing are flourishing. Construction is booming. Private-investment inflows are surging.”

The World Bank says that such growth is “quickly changing lives, driving entrepreneurship fueled in part by collaborative technology hubs, and delivering innovation and home-grown solutions for Africa”.

Last year, Zuma committed $97 billion to develop South Africa’s existing infrastructure.

With input from Agencies