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Rail master plan: Countries must look for funding

African countries in recent years launched railway master plans, which envisage “efficient, seamless and cost-effective trans-boundary infrastructure network” with support from the African Development Bank (AfDB). Standardbusiness reporter Victoria Mtomba (VM) spoke to AfDB Group division manager regional integration and trade department, Souare Mamady (SM) on the implementation of the railway master plan in Africa following the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa Week held in Abidjan last month. Below are the excerpts of the interview:

VM: What have been the major challenges in implementing the Africa railway master plan since it was signed three years ago? 
SM: The main challenge has been lack of engagement between regional economic communities and member states to prioritise and operationalise the master plans. The AfDB will play a catalystic role in bringing the various parties together and financing due diligence activities. 
VM: Countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia have railway networks but the networks require rehabilitation. Does the master plan include rehabilitation? 
SM: Yes, the master plan includes rehabilitation of existing railway corridors, which includes the lines in Zimbabwe and Zambia. However, Sadc and individual member states or bilaterally, are supposed to be proactive to mobilise resources through Public Private Partnerships and international financial institutions. The bank is able to provide financing for preliminary studies.

VM: When will the implementation of the master plan begin in the southern region?  
SM: The master plan is already underway. What is required is to scale-up the pace through a more aggressive approach to preparatory activities such as feasibility studies and resource mobilisation. In some countries such as Angola, the government has already rehabilitated, for example the Benguela railway from Lobito to Luau and discussions are underway with the governments of DRC and Zambia to link the railway to these countries. Similarly Vale (Brazilian mining firm) has completed construction and rehabilitation of the railway from Moatize to the Port of Nacala through Malawi.

VM: What is the status of the other four regions on the railway master plan? May you give an update on the stages of implementation? 
SM: Implementation of the master plan is at different stages in different regions. In the majority of cases, member states are conducting feasibility studies on new lines or are rehabilitating existing lines. However, this effort will require being streamlined and stepped-up through close cooperation between the regional economic communities, member states and international financial institutions. The bank is playing a critical role in bringing the players together and providing financing for preliminary activities.

VM: What are the other challenges faced by Africa on the implementation of railway networks? 
SM: The main challenge is financial resources. The bank is carrying out analytical studies to explore ways in which the public and private sector resources can be optimised for renewals and maintenance.  However, this will change as the African market expands with anticipated opening of new mines, gas and oil fields; increased trade; and population growth.

VM: What is China’s role in the implementation of the railway network in Africa?
SM: Financing by the Chinese is going to continue to play an important role. China is playing an important role in Africa in developing infrastructure, including the railways, either through direct bilateral agreements, but also through financial products administered through the AfDB such as the Africa Growing Together Fund. In addition to providing financial resources, China brings to the table the necessary engineering and operational expertise.

VM: Do you have investors who are ready to fund the southern Africa railway construction?
SM: A number of railways in Africa are already concessioned and there are many investors willing to invest in new railway constructions. However, what is required first is for the regional economic communities and member states to conduct market and technical intelligence, and bankable concession models for new railways and sale the projects or ideas to the private sector. The bank will play a critical role in financing due diligence activities.

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