President Yoweri Museveni has urged the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member states to prioritise investment in infrastructure to spur economic growth.
He advised African states to adopt innovative ways of financing infrastructure projects, such as through infrastructure bonds, public-private partnerships or savings.
"Improved infrastructure lowers the cost of doing business, attracts investors and creates employment," he said.
The President made the remarks today at the opening of a high level COMESA Infrastructure Conference at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala.
The conference, held under the theme "Innovative means of Infrastructure Financing" attracted delegates from 19 COMESA member states.
The countries include Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi, Comoros, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Seychelles and Swaziland.
Museveni, the current COMESA chair, urged African states to focus their investment in infrastructure, which he described as the 'cornerstone and bedrock of any society.'
He challenged African states to learn from the ancient Roman Empire, whose network of paved roads had given rise to the adage 'All Roads Lead to Rome.'
"Even today, when you go to Rome, the roads are still there; not like the ones you build and within two years they disappear," Museveni said.
He observed that inadequate infrastructure in form of transport, energy and information technology was behind region's underdevelopment.
For instance, he explained, the total installed capacity of in the region was 55,000 megawatts, compared to 124,000 megawatts for France.
Participants listen on during the opening of the COMESA conference in Kampala. PHOTO/Maria Wamala
In his analysis, all rivers in Africa have a potential to produce 360,000 megawatts of hydro- power, yet the US alone has capacity to produce one million megawatts.
Museveni attributed such disparities to weakness in planning functions of African states.
"All countries have ministers of planning, but what do they plan for when people are in darkness?" He quipped.
He identified the challenges to infrastructural growth in the region as inadequate planning capacity, funding, procuring contractors and supervision.
"Normally, I hear that Africa's problem is war. But some countries have been peaceful: why don't they have electricity. It means that planners don't know what to do."
Quoting World Bank figures, on countries' per capita electricity consumption, Museveni decried the fact that sub-Saharan countries consume 12 kilowatts per hour, far below 14,000 by the US.
On public transport, he observed that while the COMESA region has a railway network of about 28,000sqkm, Japan alone has 24,000sqkm while India has 63,000sqkm built on a smaller area.
Museveni hailed development partners for their support to the region, but appealed to them to channel funding to infrastructure projects.
"Partners, if you want to help, concentrate on infrastructure. I don't need help for democracy because that is what I fought for. I was a democrat in 1963 as a student in secondary school. Please don't waste time on those issues," he said.
The COMESA Secretary General, Sindiso Ngwenya, said Africa requires $90 billion annually over the next decade to upgrade the infrastructure, of which only$40 billion was available.
He encouraged public-private partnerships to help financing infrastructure projects in the region.
The minister of trade, industry and cooperatives, Amelia Kyambadde, who is also the current chair of the COMESA Council of Ministers, stressed the need for COMESA member countries to adopt a joint effort to raise funds for financing the region's infrastructure projects.