African countries will not make any meaningful headway in socio-economic development unless they aggressively pursue a policy of fast-paced infrastructure development. For generations Africa has continued to be a "dark" continent due to inexistent or obsolete infrastructure. With ageing and archaic infrastructure ranging from pot-holed road networks, obsolete port and rail systems, derelict housing and office complexes as well as mid-twentieth century telecommunications, one does need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that Africa is the most underdeveloped continent on the planet. Despite many countries having attained independence more than 48 years ago, infrastructure on the continent remains really below international standards, that at times, it looks as if Africa had experienced a time freeze (probably in the 1950s or 1960s). Let us take the example of Zambia to drive the point home. Zambia is a country which was classified as a middle-income country in 1969, with one of the highest Growth Domestic Products (GDPs) in Africa, three times that of Kenya, twice that of Egypt, and higher than Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey and South Korea.Regrettably, the country still boasts of a single rail network - thanks to Cecil John Rhodes' "grand Cape to Cairo plans" - linking most of the urban areas in the country and connecting Zambia to some of its neighbours (although there is also the Tanzania-Zambia rail line built by the Chinese in the 1960s and completed in the 1970s). For most parts of the rural areas, this form of transport network is non-existent. Even the rail line that is being used at the moment is below par. One would have thought that rail transport could have been prioritised by successive governments since independence in 1964 as it is cheap, but this has not been the case in Zambia. Trains cannot be used by Zambians, for instance, to commute to work. Zambia has not been proactive and serious enough in regard to the development of the rail sector.
The tourism industry has for years also not been effective due to rundown infrastructure in the country. Travelling from the once grandiose airport (that is in need of a serious overhaul), to the run down hotels and motels - the country continues to repel tourists due lack of modern infrastructure. In sport and recreation, Zambia does not have modern facilities like stadia for athletics or football. The late president, Levy Mwanawasa, had commissioned the erection of an ultra-modern stadium which was recently completed. But the bulk of sport infrastructure remain safety hazards, for example, the Independence Stadium (which is now finally being renovated) had collapsed in the 1990s killing scores of football fans. Due to this situation, Zambia has lost out on opportunities to host continental football or sport showpieces like the Africa Cup of Nations and All Africa Games, due to the absence of modern sport infrastructure in the country. How then can infrastructure foster socio-economic development? Infrastructure, including various modes of transport such as road and rail networks, are essential for creating broad-based opportunities for income generation and ultimately promote economic growth and the alleviation of poverty. The adequacy of infrastructure helps determine one country's success and another's failure in diversifying production, expanding trade, coping with population growth and urbanisation, or improving environmental conditions. Good infrastructure raises productivity and lowers production costs. Deficient infrastructure - along with weak management and poor economic organisation - accounts for a large share of low factor productivity in developing countries and indeed Africa. Infrastructure is a critical development imperative that must not be taken lightly by governments in Zambia and Africa.
Adapted from Noyoo, N., (2010). Social Policy and Human Development in Zambia. London: Adonis & Abbey.
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