Different social factors have been keeping African women from making significant impact in the continent’s infrastructure development endeavors. Dr. Bukola Bello Jaiyesimi, International President of African Foundation for Women in Nation Building and Associate Director at DW Realtors Limited, elaborates the need for engaging women more in infrastructure development in Africa.
It is indeed a privilege and an honor for me to write this piece at this time. May I start by making reference to the words of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who is also the president of the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), who said ‘‘Africa’s time has come and without infrastructure, our dreams will never be realized. We cannot trade on the continent because of lack of communication. The infrastructure that we want to create will provide new opportunities for our continent’’.
There is no doubt in my mind that Africa is the next frontier for economic growth and development. The growth will be phenomenal, such that in some years to come, there will be a large number of youth populations who will be able to contribute to economic development and advancement in the continent. This demography will be tech savvy, knowledge driven and highly productive. Now I am speaking positively about this because the African nations are already adopting strategies to grow and develop the economy fostering integration and cooperation through various policies, partnerships and interventions. I dare say that, the African nations need to ‘‘put their money where their mouth is’’. The AU with western support is leading the fight against terrorism in places like Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, Sudan etc and prevailing on member nations to resolve internal crisis by inclusion and negotiation where it exists but in one voice together condemning terrorism and standing together to fight it. This will lead to peace in the continent; enable political stability supported with institutional reforms and strengthened democratic governance through observance of the rule of law and human rights practices all to create a platform for growth and prosperity in the continent. These will go a long way to increase our ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the continent. As of 2012, FDI stood at about US$50 billion and is set to increase progressively as African nations are gravitating towards political stability which is majorly responsible for the fluctuating FDI position in the continent. You will notice that while some countries are experiencing a reduction in FDI, some are actually increasing. But what we would like to see is increase in FDI year on year.
As you are well aware, six of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa and are still crying and yearning for more investment in infrastructure.The African nations have galvanized themselves to develop their nation both in human capital coupled with the appropriate management of natural resources to advantage and engaging in meaningful and sustainable infrastructural development. The diversification of the economy from dependence on oil is on the front burners so also is improving agriculture with the aim of achieving food security, exploitation of solid minerals and improved trade activities both within Africa and outside are paramount. All these cannot be achieved without the deployment of adequate infrastructure.
‘‘Poor infrastructure impedes economic growth and international competiveness’’ (The World Bank 2006) and its insufficiency represents a major cause of loss of quality of life, illness and death. Investments in infrastructure are not just good investments but an economic imperative which will stimulate growth and reduce poverty. It is therefore necessary for Africa to improve the supply, quality and affordability of infrastructure services as this has a positive effect on economic development. The effective deployment of infrastructure is critical to ensuring the effective functioning of the economy. Likewise, it is an important factor in determining the location of economic activity and the kinds of activities or sectors that can develop in a particular economy.
We can look at infrastructure in two parts, namely, Hard and Soft Infrastructure. Hard Infrastructure refers to the physical facilities and or installations needed to operate, manage and monitor a system with the intention that the structure be permanent. Transportation, energy, housing are examples of Hard Infrastructure. Transportation systems include roads, bridges, railway, airports; also the energy system includes processing and transmission of energy and its sources for electricity networks, dams, oil and natural gas pipelines etc. Water management is also part of infrastructure that includes the provision of drinking water, sewers and flood control. The goal for these structures is for them to stay in place indefinitely. This could also be referred to as primary infrastructure.
Soft Infrastructure has more to do with human capital and institutions that maintain standards of a culture such as health, education and training, law enforcement etc. These can be classified as social infrastructure.
Africa is very much in dire need of infrastructure; we need roads, bridges, houses, rail lines, water, energy airports, sea ports, ICT, pipelines and so on for entrepreneurs to transport their goods safely, promptly and profitably. This no doubt presents huge opportunities for investment in these sectors. Imagine what our productivity and output would be if we had these in place and supported with the entire necessary soft infrastructure to cater for the growth. This means costs will be reduced by 30-40 per cent, jobs will be created; trade improved, standard of living improved and the continent will obviously be the better for it.
Until recently, in Africa women did not participate in these sectors of the economy because it was a male dominated sphere and because of the traditional role of ‘homemaker’ that women were consigned to play. However that is beginning to change as more women are taking on entrepreneurial roles and are being given, or I should say, taking the opportunity to run or participate in the running of organizations that provide primary infrastructure.
I must say to women of Africa ‘think big and differently’ and acquire the necessary skill set otherwise we will continue to scratch the surface in getting involved in high volume business deals and transactions leaving it only to the men. We should grow beyond operating on the micro level and learn how to re-strategize and grow our businesses to become major players in the various sectors.
For me, realizing that there was an acute shortage of decent and affordable housing in Africa for obvious reasons and I envisaged an opportunity there, I put my foot in the door and engaged in the development and provision of homes as an entrepreneur. Our vision is to provide 1000 housing units yearly, which involves the provision of infrastructure like road network, portable water, electricity and waste management to support these developments.
There are other women, who are taking the lead in sectors like oil and gas. For example, in Nigeria we have female ministers who head the Finance and Petroleum ministries which are regarded as major ministries. Just to mention in the private sector, Hajiya Bola Shagaya, GMD/CEO of Bolmus Group, Catherine Uju Ifejika, CEO of Brittania U Group, Amy Jadesimi, Managing Director of Ladol Petroleum Services are making valuable contributions as well as creating employment in the petroleum sector. In the financial services and investment circles, you have Ms.Yewande Sadiku who is a woman at the helm of affairs at Stanbic-Ibtc Capital. In the ICT sector you have Ms. Funke Opeke who is the Chief Executive Officer of Main One Cable Company which is providing wholesale broadband to West African countries by pioneering private submarine cable system. Looking at South Africa, women like Maria Ramos who heads Absa Group, South Africa’s largest bank. She is in charge of integration of Barclays (the majority shareholder of the bank) and Absa’s African units in order to further its ‘One Bank in Africa’ strategy and push regional growth. Siza Mzimela was the first woman to be appointed Chief Executive Officer of South African Airways and the first to be appointed to International Air Transport Association (IATA’s) board of directors in sixty seven (67) years. Also, Nonbulelo “Pinky” Moholi, CEO of Telkom SA Limited and Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita who is the CEO of Arcelormittal, the largest steel producing company on the continent have made their marks in the sands of time.
In conclusion, investing in infrastructure constitutes one of the main mechanisms to increase income, employment, productivity and ultimately, the competitiveness of an economy and there are quite a number of women out there who need to be supported to achieve more in these male dominated sectors. Let’s help them.