Time is of the essence in addressing infrastructure development in Africa - especially with a view to driving integration on the continent - and it is time to admit the way things have been done to date has not really worked.
This is according to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in his opening address at the African Ports and Rail Evolution conference in Durban on Tuesday.
"We must together grow Africa’s economy and remove all the barriers on connecting our regional economies fast. Time is against us," he said.
"To reap the huge potential benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement the people in Africa need to be connected by roads, rail, water and airports."
Due to low levels of maintenance and poor investment in infrastructure in Africa, the African Development Bank estimates the continent has lost about 25% in potential economic growth over the past 20 years, he noted.
The impact was even worse if one takes into account lost opportunities for job creation and other multipliers, he added.
He encouraged the private sector to take advantage of what he called low-hanging fruit in potential public private partnership projects on the continent.
"I call on the private sector to realise Africa’s potential and our governments to seek partnerships with the private sector in a win-win situation placing our people and the environment first," said Mbalula. "The transport sector is without a doubt a cornerstone of intra-Afrcan connectivity."
Mbalula said only 15% of trade in the SADC region was between the countries in the region, for example.
But while coordination within the continent, with uniform standards, might seem like a tall order, it is not an impossible task, he argued - even though there are 54 countries on the continent, more than 109 international boundaries and 350 border crossings.
"We must deal with operational delays and congestion at the border crossings, which add to the inefficiencies of the cross border transport system in general," he said. "We must move faster to establish a regional regulatory authority to enforce agreed harmonised standards."
Ease of doing business
Furthermore, inefficiencies cause high costs for berthing at African ports due to longer dwell times compared to international standards.
In his view, there is also a need to look at tariff regimes on the continent to improve the ease of doing business.
At the same time there is an urgent need to mobilise regional resources to modernise ports sot that turnaround times could be improved.
"There are serious infrastructure backlogs that hinder efficient cross border transportation systems,"said Mbalula. "These manifest in the many missing links on continental rail corridors and poor port infrastructure."