Project management skills vital to the development of Africa’s infrastructure

Africa’s fast growing market of urbanised middle class consumers, which is expected to increase to 1.1bn (42% of the population) by 2060, coupled with the scramble for Africa’s unexploited commodities, are both trends that indicate the massive need for infrastructure development and better service delivery on the continent.

One of the key statements in the South African National Planning Document is the following: “Government’s ability to spend its infrastructure budget will be addressed, particularly with regard to project management capacity, long-term planning and monitoring and evaluation of both expenditure patterns and construction work. Healthy project management therefore has an essential role to play in Africa’s infrastructure expansion and many project managers will be sourced from South Africa due to its position as a key development power on the continent.”

This is the view of MC Botha, head of the postgraduate diploma in project management and executive for the Centre for Project Management Intelligence at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, who says, “Africa is at the juncture of a knowledge explosion”.

However, he says the African Management Initiative (AMI) commissioned a research project to gain insight into, among others, the quantity and quality of entities that provide management education on the African continent and found that “globally, 950 international institutions accredited by the three bodies AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), AMBA (Association of MBAs) and EFMD (European Quality Improvement System or Equis) offer business degrees – only 13 of those are in Africa”.

“This paints a grim picture if considered that Africa has almost 1bn people and with the current limited supply of schools of management on the continent to serve them. When applying some acceptable standards for such institutions one is left with about 25 ‘up to standard’ institutions, and when applying international accreditation standards one is left with about 6-10 such institutions.”

Botha says the World Bank estimates that Africa needs almost US$80bn annually for infrastructure projects and that an infrastructure boom period of a decade is needed for the continent to realise its emerging growth potential.

“Africa is facing a critical development phase and is, as the World Bank says, on the eve of an economic explosion. The need for skilled project managers to successfully complete various types of projects, ranging from small projects and partnership projects to mega government projects, in diverse business sectors will only continue to grow in the foreseeable future.”

He says the South African government has already strongly committed itself to project management as a way to achieve better service delivery and infrastructure development. As recently as last month, a document was published by the Department of Higher Education and Training that listed project and programme management as a critical scarce skill in the process of preparing South Africa for the strategic infrastructure projects.

Botha also points to South African President Jacob Zuma’s 2013 State of the Nation Address in which Zuma mentioned the establishment of the Infrastructure Development Bill to fast track and enhance the coordination of South Africa’s planned strategic infrastructure projects; as well as the 2013 Budget Speech announcement in which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced the planned spending on infrastructure projects by the public sector to amount to ZAR827bn (US$83bn) over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period.

Botha says the government’s strategies can only become a reality if healthy project management principles are implemented to convert vision into action.”What needs to be established is a single project management methodology for all departments and government levels.

“The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) should have a clear mandate to give strategic direction and to force integration and coordination.”

He says a project-oriented mindset needs to be developed in the state sector. “Unrest and general dissatisfaction in South Africa over service delivery are proof of this. The need for infrastructure development and better service delivery, together with the shortage of diversified production structures, low levels of human capital and poor management supervision (corruption) are restraining development challenges for the continent.

“South Africa, together with the rest of Africa, can cross the hurdle to a new phase of development if it takes project management seriously. But to achieve this, the old cliché still holds true: everyone has to contribute and the public and private sectors must strengthen each other’s hands.”

As far as outcomes are concerned, Botha says infrastructure projects will also succeed in speeding up skills development. “Education institutions should, as a rule, get involved with government projects, which should be focused on entrepreneurial project management. Consequently, team members who can’t return to a line function after completion of the project can become entrepreneurs and job creators with the technical skills they have acquired,” concludes Botha.