The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has just published a new report on African infrastructure which widely cites a book co-edited by academics from Alliance Manchester Business School.
Quality Infrastructure in Africa for the 21st Century extensively cites Duality by Design: The Global Race to Build Africa´s Infrastructure which was co-edited by Professor Nuno Gil and Professor Anne Stafford and published last November.
The OECD report, published in partnership with the African Union Development Agency, details how by 2050 Africa will be home to 2.5 billion people, almost twice as many as today. In the face of this formidable transformation, the continent urgently needs to accelerate the delivery of basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, energy, water and broadband, while ensuring its quality.
Said Professor Gil: “In a remarkably honest assessment the OCED recognises that traditional business and project management models have systematically failed to deliver the very basic infrastructure services needed to match the dynamics of Africa’s demographic growth and urbanisation.
“The fact is that a basic infrastructure development programme, formulated under Western-style policy, can take up to 30 or even 40 years from conception to completion, by which time it no longer fits the needs of the local populations and economies.”
He said that traditional models of infrastructure development in emerging markets are fundamentally flawed in that they fail to account for elapsed time as a measure of performance. “Further, investment decisions are informed by cost-benefit analyses that use narrow definitions of value creation that leave out social gains. When you have a population growing exponentially, time matters. And social value creation matters too. These are also key reasons why African states are increasingly leveraging their agency to cut deals with Chinese firms.”
Professor Gil said they were not expecting the OECD to espouse their theoretical ideas so quickly. “The OECD has responded to our call in our book for the urgent need to fundamentally redesign the ways of organising and managing new infrastructure development projects in emergent markets.
“This institutional reform is admittedly not easy in that it requires traditional development agencies to fundamentally rethink their organisational approach to new infrastructure investment within an institutional context that is highly constrained by deep-seated norms of good governance and project management.”
He added that to be effective, reform also needs to attend to the increasing assertiveness of China in Africa through its Belt and Road initiative and the ‘no political strings attached’ principle underpinning China´s investments.
“In sum, this is the duality that the OECD, the World Bank and others need to tackle. Namely, institutions building is a pre-requisite for an ideal infrastructure development. But this is incompatible, from an organisational design perspective, with the local need for quick infrastructure development.”
The OCED report proposes two overarching mechanisms to accelerate project preparation, funding and implementation without sacrificing good governance principles. Firstly it suggests expanding the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) Quality Label System to recognise quality infrastructure. And secondly, creating a platform to enhance real-time peer learning and the sharing of good practices among African infrastructure professionals.
The OECD report stemmed from the 18th International Economic Forum on Africa held in 2O18 which called on the OECD and the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) to jointly establish a technical platform to facilitate a policy dialogue around optimising, accelerating and scaling up quality infrastructure in Africa.
Professor Gil became involved in the report after the leading authors invited him to participate in the 2nd Senior Technical Expert Group Meeting in June 2020 and give feedback. The invitation came about by chance after a leading author of the report came across Duality by Design following its publication.
He has now been invited to join the forthcoming second phase of PIDA which will look at the implementation of the recommendations, and will work closely with African states through capacity building and further development of the PIDA Quality Label system. Hopes are also high that China will actively join the second phase of PIDA through the Centre for International Knowledge on Development.