Africa faces a new set of challenges for infrastructure development

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African development has been spectacular, in parts, over the last couple of decades. As the foreign investment pours in, natural resources and local talent have gradually migrated while African governments have mostly adopted the Western blueprint for democracy.

However, there are signs this relationship could be changing. The international community is in a state of transition while its top allies in Africa are showing they won’t simply follow the line because it suits Western powers.

Then you have the other variables: economics, the environment, overpopulation and a number of increasingly difficult challenges. More so now than ever, infrastructure development in Africa faces a new set of challenges and there’s no script to follow anymore.

 

A new kind of international community

The international community is in a state of transition, but it’s still not clear what kind of shift is taking place. Brexit and Trump’s election were followed by a spread of populist noise across Europe but France shunned the trend before it even began by rejecting Marine Le Pen’s nationalistic campaign during elections in May, instead choosing Emmanuel Macron as its new leader.

Suddenly, the populist movement fell silent and something else entirely spread across Europe: solidarity. The EU looks stronger than ever as Brexit negotiations fumble on but Africa’s biggest financial ally in the union is on its way out. An EU without Britain will almost certainly mean less aid for Africa and the impact of leaving in the British economy means it’s got problems of its own to think about for the coming years.

The US is also tightening its purse strings when it comes to foreign spending. The emphasis in the international community appears to be on spending internally – investing in one’s own country.

Last year, the UN announced it had seen a damaging decline in foreign investment and this is something Africa will have to face up to.

 

Falling commodity prices

The falling prices of commodities are putting strain on the world’s developing economies and the timing couldn’t be worse for Africa. Oil prices shocked the global economy in 2015 and recovery has been slow. Now, oil-rich countries are facing up the end of the black gold era where prices potentially never recover to their former heights. And it needs to happen sooner or later; renewable energy has to take the lead at some point.

It’s not only oil prices that are hurting resource-rich countries either. Metals are on the decline, too, and African currencies are feeling the squeeze as a result. This obviously impacts the economy from top to bottom – at a time where international investment is also slowing. This also includes China, which is facing its own economic slowdown.

 

Africa’s overpopulation problems

One fo the biggest risks to sustainable development in Africa is overpopulation. As countries like Kenya struggle to bring electricity to all of its citizens, growing populations present obvious problems. However, it’s the hospitals and schools that tend to suffer most in these cases.

Education systems are already struggling at the lower end in African nations and budgets are stretched beyond their limit. A rapidly growing youth only places more strain on a system fighting to cope with increasing demand.

Later in life, the issue of unemployment quickly follows education in a time where technology is gobbling up human jobs. With Africa trying to cut production costs and improve efficiency, it’s difficult to see how it can neglect technology in favour of maintaining human jobs.

Between 2015 and 2050, African populations are expected to rise by 1.3 billion – more than half of the world’s entire population growth.

 

A more independent Africa?

More people means more infrastructural development is needed but the list of problems keeps on growing. Meanwhile, external help appears to be shrinking as global powers have their own issues to think about. Which leaves many African nations in a strange position.

The blueprint of standing in line behind the international community doesn’t guarantee the financial support it has done for the last twenty years or so. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen African leaders like Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni reject the input of overseas powers at times – particularly when it comes to commenting on political matters.

There’s a growing sentiment perhaps that Africa wants to make it on its own. Which coincides with the pressing reality that the economic roadmap set out by the West may no longer work. Experts are telling Africa it will need to innovate its own way to sustainable development and countries like Rwanda have already proven their innovative abilities.

The thing about African innovation is it’s born out of necessity. Economically speaking, the outlook is a worry for developing nations right now, but Africa is coming of age and maybe this is the ideal time for its leading economies to pave a more self-reliant route for future development.

 

Features image: By NJR ZA – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16327728

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.