Infrastructure Development for Africa was the focus of the 2008 U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Conference held in Washington, D.C. October 6 to 8. The event was sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa, an non-governmental organization of nearly 200 companies dedicated to strengthening the commercial relationship between the U.S. and Africa.
U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Thomas Barrett told attendees that Africa is a continent of great potential and "unlocking that potential remains complicated and an enormous challenge." To realize its potential, said Deputy Secretary Barrett, "Africa is candidly going to have to become a continent much more on the move. The inefficiencies and the deficits with respect to transportation infrastructure are going to have to be worked on and overcome."
To that end, he said, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been working both in the United States and Africa to establish some effective transportation partnerships – "partnerships that can be effective and that can make a real difference in terms of transportation networks and the people of Africa."
Deputy Secretary Barrett said that during a recent African Growth and Opportunity Act Transportation Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, both government and business representatives "renewed a commitment to growth" and agreed on a series of principles to aid in the development of integrated transportation networks.
Integration of transportation networks is important because one of the major problems now facing Africa is port infrastructure. It is not simply a matter of unloading cargo, said Deputy Secretary Barrett. "It's getting stuff off of the dock into the country or from the interior of the country to the dock whether by rail, road or truck." For that to be successful, he said, networks must be integrated and work collectively.
Mr. Barrett said the U.S. will work to help Africa expand its public-private sector partnerships in building transportation infrastructure. The role of government, he said, is to "set the conditions for successful investment by these private partners. You need positive and reliable conditions for investment. . . to succeed."
U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Barrett noted that transportation is an underpinning of economic growth. "Working on those networks, making them efficient, safe and reliable," he said, "is a path toward economic development and growth."