A personal account of PIDA Week written by Millicent Kgeledi, a NEPAD Agency Communications Officer

Edited by Sandra Nyaira, UNECA Communications Officer

When I landed in Zimbabwe on Sunday, 25th November 2018, I was greeted by sweltering heat. And as we weaved through the immigration process and drove to the hotel, I complained as we chit chatted with colleagues about the unbearable heat which was way above 30 degrees Celcius.

Arriving at the hotel, the first impression was excellent. The lush green well-manicured lawns caught my eye as did the friendly staff who were on hand to give us a hearty welcome to the home of one of the great wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders.

As I looked around the grand Elephant Hotel buildings, a feeling began to sink in that we were set for big things in the next few days. We were indeed a few hours away from hosting a historic event in the Victoria Falls – PIDA Week 2018!! Banners were everywhere, delegates were moving around the registration area to ensure they didn’t miss the change to partake in this annual gathering of Infrastructure stakeholders from the continent and beyond. Last year PIDA Week was hosted by the Government of the Republic of Namibia. They put an excellent show and I was anxious to see what the Great Victoria Falls, through the Zimbabwe was just about to do. They definitely did not disappoint.

I quickly checked in, read through once again the concept note that we had reviewed over and over again, just to ensure that the message was clearly relayed to all and sundry and PIDA was here and set to change the face of Africa through unprecedented infrastructural development.

This annual gathering brings together key stakeholders involved in the implementation of the PIDA programme to take stock of progress and identify ways to continue to advance and accelerate implementation.

At the briefing meeting with the African Union Commission Director of Infrastructure and Energy, Mr. Cheikh Bedda and NEPAD Agency CEO, Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, we were reminded once again to ensure that we gave our all to deliver a successful event for Africa. The overall objective being to ensure that the need for accelerated implementation of Infrastructure projects in Africa was highlighted throughout the Week. After all, when all is said and done, it should be about the radical transformation of the Continent through Infrastructure development!!

I went to bed ready to play my part…

Day 1, 26 November 2018: The Commitment is there…

We kick-stared PIDA Week with a Media Breakfast session. The room was fully packed. The enthusiasm was evident. I heard Dr. Mayaki, during his address reminding the media to advocate for transboundary infrastructure projects such as Kazungula Bridge on the border of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana; to remind Africa and the world that Africa is indeed rising! He also spoke on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and highlighted PIDA’s role in this initiative.

“If this African Continental Free Trade Area is well implemented, we’ll surely become a force to be reckoned with globally as we can trade among ourselves without any restrictions,” he said. His words and those spoken by others urging Africa to push transboundary life-changing infrastructure projects continued to ring in my mind as proceedings continued and I stood there to capture history in the making through my camera. My reflection didn’t last long because we had to rush to prepare for the opening ceremony…

One is always expected to multitask at these events, so I had to move from the Media Breakfast session to the Continental Business Network Roundtable session which was convened alongside the Single Africa Air Transport Market session.

As I walked into the CBN session, I was reminded of the tough but doable job lying ahead for Africa and its partners in terms of infrastructure development by the words of Symerre Grey-Johnson, Head of Regional Integration, Infrastructure and Trade Programme. He said;  “To realise our goals, we need to focus on an integrated project focused approach. It is a pre-requisite to review and assess current CBN institutional and governance structures.”

From that session I moved briefly to the Single Africa Air Transport Market session. H.E Raila Odinga was attending the session!! Understandably so because the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, appointed him as High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa on 20 October 2018. This decision is part of the African Union’s drive to expedite the integration of the continent through infrastructure, in order to promote economic growth and sustainable development

And then it was time for the opening ceremony, the hall was filled to capacity with about 400 delegates seated and ready to hear from their host. Zimbabwe’s National Anthem reverberated through the speakers as did the African Union one and everyone watched in anticipation as the various speakers walked onto the stage. The Zimbabwean Minister called for accelerated implementation of PIDA projects if Africa was going to deliver for its citizens.

For his part, Mr. Odinga said; “Transformational decisions have to be taken if we are to move ahead. Africa must deal with political bottlenecks that hamper its development or we shall never compete.”

I couldn’t agree with his sentiments more! I wish for an Africa which can prosper despite differing political ideologies among those in leadership positions. The unifying factor among all leaders and policy makers should be the Infrastucture for transformation!

Among those who made remarks on behalf of the various institutions and entities, were Zimbabwe’s Transport and Infrastructural Development and Transport Minister, Joel Biggie Matiza; the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid; NEPAD Agency CEO ,Dr Ibrahim Mayaki; Infrastructure Director at the African Development Bank, Ms. Moono Mupotola:  Director-General of the Belt and Road Unit, National Development and Reform Commission, the People’s Republic of China Mr. Xiao Weiming and  European Commission’s Director for Planet and Prosperity, Ms. Carla Montesi.

I think all of us in that opening ceremony understood and realized one key factor: the Commitment to develop Africa’s Infrastructure is there! We just need to address the various challenges and grab the many opportunities that present themselves. And that is what the next two days of the PIDA Week was about…

Day 2: Infrastructure Experts are optimistic…

I spent the next two days attending the different sessions that focused on different aspects of PIDA implementation. I listened to Tichaona Simbini present on the Job Creation Toolkit which promises to provide a tangible indicator of jobs created through infrastructure projects. I also got a better understanding of the LAPSET project during the session also presented by Tichaona. The Traffic Light System as a catalyst for the development of One Stop Border Posts was discussed in the MoveAfrica session and of course my favourite, the much anticipated High Speed Rail, which is one of the Agenda 2063 visionary goals. In another session, I got a harsh reminder that the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor needs more investors in order to complete the project.

After this week-long memorable journey with the NEPAD Agency Regional Integration, Infrastructure and Trade Programme, I have no doubt that an integrated, prosperous Africa is not a far-fetched dream, it just needs committed stakeholders across the board – from Public to Private Sector, to Infrastructure experts and development partners. PIDA Week 2018 has surely proven that the commitment is there.

“If we want to accelerate Infrastructure Development in Africa, we need to deliver as one”, said Dr Mayaki as he officially closed PIDA Week 2018.

And I couldn’t agree with him more.

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