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Last week, the World Meteorological Organization announced Ethiopia as the location of its new Regional Office for Africa. The office will be hosted in the headquarters of Ethiopia’s National Meteorological Agency, a one billion birr complex expected to be constructed over the next few years to meet increasing demands in Africa for reliable weather and climate services.
A recent blog post by Ricardo Hausmann caught my eye because it addresses issues that I’ll be focusing on during my visiting fellowship here at the Center for Global Development. Hausmann—a former Venezuelan minister of planning—discusses the difficulty of closing the infrastructure gap in developing countries, and highlights the dilemma of whether governments should finance infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships or through their national budgets. He’s right about the dilemma, but his solution isn’t workable for fragile and low-income countries where infrastructure needs are greatest.
Sub-Saharan African countries are at a critical juncture. With China's slowdown and the collapse in commodity prices, growth slipped to 3.4 percent in 2015, on average just over half what it has been for the past 15 years. Estimated growth for 2016 is below the population growth rate of about 2 percent, thus negative in per capita terms.
It is no secret that Africa faces an infrastructure crisis. The low-income economies of the region have fewer miles of paved roads and fewer modern freight and passenger-transport systems than any other region in the world. Electricity is also highly unreliable; businesses in many African countries suffer from power outages on more than half of the days they work per year. Inadequate infrastructure is cited by most African firms as the single biggest obstacle to doing business.