Reliable, efficient Infrastructure is a challenge in Africa but….

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Overcoming the infrastructure gap is a big challenge in Africa but is one that can bring huge opportunities, [for the continent and Swiss investors] asserted Mr. Jürg Sprecher, Head of Section Bilateral Economic Relations Middle East and Africa, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in his address at the 5th Edition of Africa Business Day (ABD) a business platform between Africa and Switzerland organised by the Swiss-African Business Circle (SABC).

Speaking on the theme of the editionOvercoming the infrastructure gap in Africa’, Sprecher said “overcoming the infrastructure gap has become one of, if not, the top priority of many African countries.”

Full text of the speech:

All protocols observed

First of all, I would like to thank the Swiss-African Business Circle (SABC) for organizing this event, as well as Siemens for hosting it. As in previous years, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is proud to support the African Business Day with its patronage.

Building reliable and efficient infrastructure is considered vital for fostering sustainable economic growth.

In this regard, overcoming the infrastructure gap has become one of, if not, the top priority of many African countries. It is a big challenge, but one which also brings huge opportunities.

African economies have been resilient over the past few years. The infrastructure deficit, however, represents a constraint on their growth.

Bridging the gap is a multidimensional issue, which demands good framework conditions. These have been improving year on year, with public actors playing a major role. We at the SECO, for example, are involved bilaterally and multilaterally in infrastructure development in Africa. On the multilateral level, our Economic Cooperation and Development Division is an important donor to the African Development Bank (AfDB), and has been supporting it since its foundation in 1972. They offer many financing opportunities for the private sector and we strongly encourage Swiss companies to collaborate with the AfDB.

Within our bilateral cooperation, we also lend our support through the creation of favourable framework conditions for infrastructure financing in certain countries. As an example, SECO is involved in Ghana in improving accessibility and mobility in the Greater Accra Metropolitan area. In addition, we are also directly involved in infrastructure projects in South Africa, Tunisia and Egypt.

However, involvement from the public sector cannot bridge the gap alone. The private sector is key for inclusive economic development on all levels. In this regard, I am glad to see that the number of African countries embracing economic policies that favour private sector development is on the rise. Events such as this one today give a platform for the private sector to foster new partnerships and to work hand in hand with the public sector.

We have seen very positive signs from within the continent. In many different fields, African businesses are coming up with innovative ways to circumvent infrastructure constraints. We can mention a few success stories:

The rise of fintech is the most representative example. Mobile money accounts are widespread and common in Africa. Financial infrastructures are still a mirage for many Africans, but mobile money solutions enable people to be financially included and participate in the local and regional economy.

Isn’t it Mark Zuckerberg who visited Kenya in 2016 to learn more about mobile money payment? A visit, which most probably inspired Facebook’s future global currency Libra.

Fintech is not the only area in which innovative ideas come to life. Other fields cannot escape from the willingness of Africa to take advantage of opportunities and find solutions.

A project named Mawingu is providing thousands of users with internet access in Kenyan rural areas. It uses underutilised television frequencies for long-distance data transmission and combines them with simple WiFi routers.

Another one called Easy Solar, founded in South Africa, is providing thousands of “off-grid people” in Sierra Leone with reliable clean solar energy at an affordable price through a pay-as-you go system.

What do these innovative ideas show? What do they have in common?

They represent alternatives to the usual infrastructure development path. They are ways to leapfrog to more efficient infrastructure technologies. They are testimony of the burgeoning pool of ideas on the continent. Infrastructure development can benefit immensely from this new input of innovation. It offers ample scope to build tailor-made partnerships between private companies, state actors and civil society organisations, enabling new innovative business opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Africa Business Day is a chance for all of us to seize the opportunity and jump on the moving train. I invite you all to join us on this journey.

But remember; The journey doesn’t end at 4pm today. For many of us, it may be a first step, but one thing is certain – by sharing knowledge and skills, we can all learn a lot from each other on the road to success.

Therefore, I encourage you to take advantage of today’s event to make new contacts and wish you all a very successful Africa Business Day.