Six remarkable African infrastructure projects

The development of sustainable urban infrastructure is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century. Professional services firm KPMG recently released its latest Infrastructure 100: World Cities Edition, which identified the world’s 100 most innovative and inspiring urban infrastructure projects. How we made it in Africa takes a look at the six African projects that were included in the top 100.

An artist's impression of one of Lagos' proposed light rail stations.

An artist's impression of one of Lagos' proposed light rail stations.

1. BRICS Cable Although still in the planning stage, the BRICS Cable is one of the largest and most ambitious projects included in the Infrastructure 100. The BRICS submarine cable is a 34,000 km, fibre optic cable system that will link cities in the BRICS economies – Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil – with the United States.

The concept for the BRICS Cable first surfaced after South Africa was admitted to the BRICS economic bloc in 2010. Suggestions followed at the March 2011 BRICS summit in China that South Africa – the smallest of the economies in the grouping – was punching above its weight, and questions were asked about what additional value the country could bring to the table.

With this in mind, the idea for the cable was put forward as a way of reducing reliance on links across Europe and the north Atlantic. Currently, the BRICS countries are connected to each other via telecoms hubs in Europe and the United States, resulting in high costs and the risk of possible interception of critical financial and security information by non-member states. A new system would provide a shorter, cheaper and potentially more secure route for traffic flowing between the BRICS nations – along with enhanced internet connectivity to boost economic activity.

In terms of routing, the cable will extend south from Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast through Shantou in China to Singapore. A spur will be built to Chennai, India as the main cable extends further south through Mauritius, on to Cape Town in South Africa, across the south Atlantic to Fortaleza in Brazil and then northward to Jacksonville in the US state of Florida. Currently the planned completion date for the whole development is the second half of 2014, with an estimated budget of US$1.4bn.

2. Lagos Metro Blue Line With an estimated 18 million residents, Lagos is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. The infrastructure of Nigeria’s commercial hub has, however, not kept up with its population growth. KPMG describes the Blue Line of the Lagos Rail network as a groundbreaking public-private partnership (PPP) that not only fills a serious gap in transportation infrastructure in the city, but also displays innovation in its financing structure. Track and station infrastructure is being constructed under design-build contracts funded by the Lagos State government, while Eko Rail will provide trains, control systems and fare collection under a 25-year equip-operate-maintain concession.

3. Ethiopia Djibouti Railway This railway is part of Ethiopia’s ambitious plans to develop national railway infrastructure and is notable for its sheer scale and for the significant positive impact that it could have on economic growth in the Horn of Africa. The 656 km line will connect Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa with the tiny Red Sea state of Djibouti. According to KPMG, the $1.2bn project would have enormous economic significance for landlocked Ethiopia as Djibouti represents the country’s only seaport access and would considerably reduce goods transportation costs

4. O3b Networks Another communications infrastructure venture, O3b Networks is a continent-wide project that has financed and is currently deploying a $1bn next-generation satellite network that combines the reach of satellite with the speed of fibre – providing an internet backbone for Africans and those in other developing countries with limited access to broadband. “The judges were impressed with the scope of the project, which aims to connect several billion users in 177 different countries,” commented KPMG.

5. Durban Waste to Energy Project KPMG reckons that South Africa’s Durban Waste to Energy Project is a model for the continent, as it converts methane gas derived from household waste into electricity. Energy is transferred through the city’s existing grid, and supplies roughly 5,000 to 6,000 low-income households per day. It will generate money for Durban through the sale of electricity and carbon credits.

6. Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital The last of the six African projects to be recognised in KPMG’s Infrastructure 100 report is in the healthcare category – Lesotho’s Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital. This $120m project is a landmark endeavour in sub-Saharan Africa. The hospital was built to replace the deteriorating 450-bed Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in the capital city, Maseru. Another torchbearer for PPPs, the scheme promises to transform healthcare services. It will be the country’s main public hospital with 390 beds, as well as clinical and non-clinical services, supporting two million people.