Yaounde — Transforming Central Africa's transport corridors into all-encompassing development corridors is crucial for moving to the region's next development and integration frontier, especially at the dawn of free trade in Africa but it is a more complex proposition which needs continuing engagement with State and non-state parties.
This is the take home message from an expert group meeting convened on 8 December 2020 by the Subregional Office for Central Africa of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on reconfiguring the sub-region's interconnected routes so that they engender linkages, cluster development, trade-induced industrial and value-added productive activity, away from the current enclave "excavate-carry-and-ship-abroad" formula inherited from the colonial past.
ECA experts used the opportunity to explain to government planners as well as representatives from Regional Economic Communities, intergovernmental organisations and other development institutions, how, building on the Central Africa Consensual Transport Masterplan (PDCT-AC), a new integrated investment and spatial planning approach based on a comprehensive mapping of Central Africa's biophysical and socio-economic assets would unlock the full development potential of the sub-region, using transnational routes as vectors of prosperity.
PDCT-AC was formulated with the technical support of the Commission and endorsed by Central African Heads of State and Government in 2004, as the main framework guiding road and other infrastructure development initiatives in the sub-region.
In a first presentation, Lot Tcheeko, Knowledge Management Officer at ECA's Central Africa Office, provided an historical account on the genesis of PDCT-AC and shared information on key performance indicators along Central Africa main transport corridors.
He argued that existing infrastructure development is still predicated on linking capitals and facilitating access to sea to landlocked countries in the sub-region. He maintained that ECA's Central Africa Office's effort to collect and analyze geo-referenced socio-economic and biophysical data along transport corridors would enable their transformation into development corridors, improving access to basic services for populations living along and near these itineraries and increasing and strengthening inter-state economic exchanges, to name just a few gains.
He adumbrated the point with the Maputo Development Corridor in Southern Africa, which he said is a classic example of what a development corridor should aim to be. Linking the Mozambican main port and capital Maputo with Gauteng, Limpopo, & Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa, the Maputo Corridor is the locus for agribusiness, mining beneficiation, petroleum refining, soap manufacturing, aluminum smelting and electricity transportation outfits in an integrated production, consumption, trade and development cluster. It is therefore a trajectory for high value-added production and economic activity which brings prosperity to the people along and around it.
"Piecing together geo-referenced socio-economic and biophysical data along development corridors in Central Africa will help our central and local governments to better understand the location, magnitude and the dynamic relationships of their resource base" argued Antonio Pedro, Head of ECA's Central Africa Office, in support of the foregoing analysis.
"This understanding, which will clarify the cumulative positive or negative impact of elements in their resource base on development options, is a key input to improving development planning, prioritizing investments, and managing trade-offs between competing land use options," he explicated.
He further mooted that using the spatial planning approach and tools being proposed by ECA would be fundamental to supporting the execution of national and local development plans as well as successfully managing the ongoing decentralization agenda in Central Africa.
He explained that the geospatial tools on development corridors, being developed by ECA, will provide granular information to better connect the dots, as the sophisticated superimposition of data such as solar irradiation, arable land, agro-ecological data, level of education, to name a few, to help Governments of Central Africa make critical decisions in terms of where to locate special economic zones and identify which investments should be prioritized and in which sequence.
"All of this is aimed at maximizing development impact and realizing economies of agglomeration, which is a vital decision making process in the context of the prevailing reduced fiscal space," Pedro said, adding that the approach would further strengthen the bankability of the region's development projects along the corridors.
These new approach and tools are expected to give development planners crisp information that can make all the difference in optimizing the productivity of certain geographically linked poles. An example on which ECA has already advanced its analytical work is the Douala-Edea-Kribi trajectory on the south-western coastlines of Cameroon. The analysis unequivocally shows that Cameroon would benefit enormously from threading this assemblage of settlements into a vibrant economic growth triangle.
Spatial development expert - Tidjani Chetima of the Urbanization Section of ECA in Addis Ababa echoed the need to pay keen attention to urban centers along corridors, given their characteristics as poles of economic agglomeration with a strong supply and demand pull boosting trade, concentration of trained manpower, relatively good infrastructure and other key inputs for productivity gain, value addition and the emergence of value chains, making urban settlements good candidates to anchor development corridors.
He called for a better link between urban, sub-urban and rural areas, as part of a seamlessly linked ecosystem. He further recommended that industrial, trade, spatial planning, urbanization and other sectoral policies should be integrated in the design of development corridors. He noted that the corridors should be selected taking into consideration their economic growth potential.
Various participants invited to the discussion expressed satisfaction with the proposed paradigm shift from mere transport corridors to development corridors in Central Africa and made recommendations for moving the process forward.
Solomane Kone of the African Development Bank (AfDB) welcomed the new approach proposed by ECA, arguing that would represent a step change on how to link infrastructure development to the imperatives of industrialization, market integration, deepening of regional value chains as well as economic and political decentralization. He called on the core team working on the new tools to invest more into articulating how the reconfiguration of the corridors in Central Africa would be implemented, including support measures.
Jean de Dieu Mouangoli Amenghas, Technical Director of the Congolese Shippers' Council said there were already pockets of value addition along certain corridors such as cement and mineral development factories along the Pointe Noire-Brazzaville trajectory but that dilapidating features of transport infrastructure were stifling such developments. These issues, he argued, must be spotlighted in the new proposition for the subregion's corridors.
Jean Paterne Megne Ekoga, Director of Operations at the Development Bank of Central Africa (BDEAC) argued that all road construction policies must only be implemented when placed side-by-side industrial policies. He also advocated bringing into the picture the need for reversing the urbanization megatrend of the subregion to allow space for development and innovation in rural areas along some of the corridors.
In the same vein, researcher Zachary Roger Mbarga called for mainstreaming the opening-up of rural production basins as enablers of development corridors.
Meanwhile Mahamat Nour Bakary, Public Works Engineer working for the ECCAS Commission, while welcoming the new approach, reminded the audience that the PDCT-AC is still the main framework for transport development in the sub-region and called for a deepening of the conversation on the reconfiguration of development corridors with the leaders of subregional bodies and high-level government representatives.
"We are now comforted that the case for reconfiguration of the transport corridors in Central Africa has been made and the added value of the GIS-enabled tools, to go with it, has been demonstrated," said ECA's Antonio Pedro, while indicating that the study on the reconfiguration of corridors in Central Africa will be finalized by the first quarter of 2021, taking into consideration the inputs received during the 8 December consultation.
He added, that the study will be a key input to the formulation of the Central Africa Regional Industrial Development and Economic Diversification Master Plan (PDIDE-AC) as well as to the review of the PDCT-AC.
Abel Akara Ticha - Communication Officer
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
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