The AfCFTA agreement is an inspired idea because it gives us a chance to have a business without borders. We will now be able to go into places like Zimbabwe, Zambia and other countries to compete. It also gives us a chance to compete with multinationals from India and China in those other countries and possibly win which we have done before. The agreement will lay to rest some of the restrictions that were imposed by colonial legacies of the past.
We can now go into areas without worrying about Portuguese or francophone protocols being a barrier. Another big plus is that fellow Africans will see an African-owned organisation like us that is well organised and accomplished and our success will rub on them. Overall, the trade agreement provides a platform where better African companies can set the marker for the rest to follow and catch-up.
We must develop the structures we need to create the Africa we want to see. Our wealth in terms of human as well as natural resources should be enough for us to develop the products we need to sustain ourselves. At the moment, most African construction firms buy products from abroad. It’s not that we don’t want to buy from within the continent, it’s because there is a huge communication breakdown that leads us down that path.
The new continental agreement can help us tear down those barriers and maybe we will start to see more intra-African trade than ever before. The lack of standardisation is another problem that we must attack. Our markets are filled with different products that serve the same function which makes quality control difficult. We must standardise so that we can have uniform standards and a way to tell good quality.
We can work faster if we come together instead of each country developing its own set of standards. It will be great to know that you can get your material needs met easily within your region because everybody is utilising the same standards. Uniform standards will make materials available locally; saving us money as well as all the time we lose trying to import foreign parts and materials.
A sustainable future for us would be to start doing things a bit differently. We must move away from the methods of construction we are deploying at the moment. Our methods today are mostly onsite use of steel and also use of concrete which is very polluting. In the medium term, we must embrace offsite construction methods. We must look at proper water treatment, investment in solar energy, and also wind energy. We will improve our industry if we can reduce the costs through manufacturing while also doing away with old methods of construction.
We will never be able to fill the infrastructure gaps in our continent with the construction methods we are using today because the cost is too high and also because construction takes too much time. At some point, decision-makers must realise that we cannot solve ancient problems with ancient solutions. If industry leaders don’t make the call soon enough, demographic pressure will force things, and soon Africa will follow in the footsteps of the US and other developed jurisdictions.
There are few industries as pivotal to driving Africa’s sustainable economic development as the civil engineering sector.
No shortage of challenges lies ahead in the development of Africa’s built environment. These challenges are, primarily, financial; How can capital be raised to improve infrastructure and living conditions across the continent? And, environmental; How can a continent of over 1.2bn people (and counting) develop without accelerating climate change and degrading the natural environment?
Shaping a path of truly sustainable economic development on the African continent will need engineering minds at the forefront of policymaking, strategy, and delivery.
As the leading economies of the continent seek to accelerate industrialisation, does Africa’s civil engineering sector have the depth and capacity to deliver on the mega-projects required for growth?
Who are the innovators that will find solutions to challenges around affordable housing, the infrastructure gap, skills shortage, access to capital and environmental impact?
AfricaLive.net speaks with sector leaders from across Africa to understand how African civil engineers seek to shape the future of the continent.