On one side, China, with its Belt and Road Initiative, which is beginning to crack after years of great announcements; on the other, Europe, with its Global Gateway Initiative conceived to support the construction of new infrastructures; and in the center, Africa.
And so the least developed continent in terms of large public works is now suddenly courted by two political and economic giants that, for different geopolitical reasons, aim to sustain development through investments in infrastructures. The Belt and Road Initiative, launched and relaunched several times by Chinese President Xi Jinping, aims to mobilize 300 billion euros in investments by 2027, half of which destined to Africa. However, in the last few months, the obvious delays in the setting aside of the expected funds have raised doubts about the real efficacy of the Chinese plan.
The European Union has responded in the last few days by announcing 87 new projects, which will be part of the Global Gateway Initiative, a plan to sustain infrastructure, health, education and the fight against climate change in Africa and at the same time close the huge infrastructure gap of the continent.
Infrastructures, a huge gap to be filled rapidly
Africa’s infrastructure development overall is similar to the spots on a leopard. Some regions of the continent are still profoundly backwards, while others have witnessed over the last few years a path to development sustained by large public works. Ethiopia is an example for all. The country has been investing for years in the production of clean energy obtained via the construction of large dams. The three dams of Gibe, Gerd and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, all constructed by the Webuild, group, allowed Ethiopia not only to fill its internal energy gap but also to transform the country into an exporter of power to neighboring countries. Unfortunately the Ethiopian experience has not been repeated in all the other African states and the infrastructural gap, especially in terms of transports, is still very elevated.
The African Development Bank estimates that to fill this gap $100 billion must be invested every year. The goal can only be reached by favoring as much as possible public-private partnerships, the only way to raise the necessary funds, according to the Bank’s president Akinwumi A. Adesina. These resources, the bank says, should be used mainly to overcome the delay in the transport sector, especially in rail lines that are still lacking on the continent, to guarantee internal links within the states and to ensure the flow of people and goods between one country and another. And this is precisely one of the goals of the initiative launched by the European Union.
A competition fought with investments
Just like China, Europe also recognizes Africa’s strategic value, both from a geopolitical point of view and a commercial one. In fact, while the Belt and Road Initiative expects investments of about 300 billion euros, half of which for the African continent, the European Union’s Global Gateway Initiative is setting aside 150 billion euros just for African countries over just five years. The resources should be in addition to projects financed by individual member states in total autonomy. The goal of these funds is to realize concrete works: railways, ports, airports, strategic intermodal corridors capable of fueling exchanges and favor the continent’s development.
The large public works on the European Union's list
The Global Gateway Initiative is not just promises. In addition to the large amount set aside, it points to several projects that must be realized as soon as possible. Among the 87 projects that have been announced already, there are many that concern strategic transport networks. Starting with the Praia-Dakar-Abidjan corridor, which involved Guinea Bissau and Senegal with the construction of Bus Rapid Transit lines, the expansion of the Banjul port in Gambia and the modernization of Senegal’s entire transport system. This year will be announced the project to expand and modernize the Pointe-noire port, one of the most important commercial ports of the Congo. The projects involve the entire continent, from North to South. In Morocco the railway line connecting Rabat, the capital, to Sale-Temara will be extended by 37 kms; in Cape Verde a large hydroelectric plant will be built; in Nigeria six hydroelectric dams will be constructed to produce 2MW of clean energy; in Tanzania another large hydroelectric plant is to be built, and in Kenya a the construction of an urban transport network for Nairobi will be started.
Real projects that the European Union has already financed with the conviction that they will be the means to restart the flame of development in the African continent.