Formerly recognised predominantly for its expansive landscapes and abundant resources, the continent is now emerging as an economic powerhouse. A growing middle-class fuels demand and e-commerce is booming. However, substantial infrastructure limitations hinder progress.

Africa's story is being rewritten. Once known primarily for its vast landscapes and resource wealth, the continent is emerging as a powerhouse of industry and economic dynamism. This transformation is fueled by a burgeoning middle class with rising disposable income. This economic empowerment is driving demand for diverse goods and services, propelling the growth of a dynamic manufacturing sector.

However, challenges persist. A substantial infrastructure gap hinders Africa's full potential. “Financing Africa’s infrastructure is still a big challenge faced by many countries on the continent. To bridge the infrastructure gap, public-private partnerships are essential for infrastructure development in Africa. AfDB estimates that between $130 and $170 billion is needed for infrastructure development every year, leaving a substantial financing gap of $68 to $108 billion,” Dr Robert Lisinge, Acting Director of the Private Sector Development and Finance Division at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said during African Economic Conference 2023. According to the United Nations’ Africa Dialogue Series 2023, the continent’s private sector loses up to 30% to 60% of its productivity due to poor infrastructure. The notion that Africa’s infrastructure deficit reflects its relatively low income levels does not hold because the infrastructure deficit exceeds those of other developing countries with similar levels of per capita income.

The solution lies in building the arteries of a thriving economy: modern ports, well-maintained roads, reliable railways, and advanced airports. Strategic investments in these areas will not only facilitate the seamless flow of goods and reduce logistical costs but also allow Africa to actively engage in the global marketplace.


With a vast coastline exceeding 30,000 kilometers, numerous natural harbours offer immense potential for trade. To keep pace with the projected 4.2% GDP growth in 2025 (AfDB), several port upgrade projects are underway.

Nigeria completed the Lekki Deep Sea Port, a modern facility boasting a capacity of 2.5 million TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) in 2022. East Africa is also seeing a boost in port capacity. The Kenyan government announced a $2.1 billion expansion of Mombasa Port, aiming to increase its capacity by 450,000 TEUs by 2027. This expansion will cater to the growing demand for cargo handling in the region. “The productivity of this port is directly linked to the state of our economy, improving efficiency will help us create jobs, boost export volumes and stimulate economic growth. We need investments to create opportunities, uplift communities and strengthen the economy. This will significantly boost our Blue Economy and enhance our exploration for possibilities of trade and investment in the Oceans,” said Kenyan President William Ruto at the Port Reforms Working Group Consultative Forum in 2023.


Looking beyond the coastlines, several initiatives aim to improve connectivity across the continent's vast landmass of 30.3 million square kilometers. The Trans-African Highway network, a 27,000-kilometer highway system connecting major cities, is nearing completion in many areas. However, there's still a significant gap in rural areas. To bridge this gap, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) are emerging as a successful model for financing road construction and maintenance.

Recognising the critical role of efficient trade routes, Africa is undergoing a significant infrastructure development push. The AfDB plays a key role, upgrading crucial arteries like the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor connecting economic powerhouses Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria. This project aligns with the goals of the African Union's Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) and the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) Vision 2050 to create a more integrated region.


While road networks are crucial, railways offer a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly mode of transport. However, Africa's rail network remains underdeveloped. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) recognised this challenge and outlined plans for a unified continental railway network. The AfDB loaned $40 million to Mozambique in 2024 to upgrade their railways. This will improve efficiency and lower transport costs. The project aims to boost foreign earnings by $135 million by 2036 and strengthen regional trade. Mozambique's improved rail system will become a more attractive transport option for neighbouring countries like South Africa and Zambia, allowing them to efficiently export and import goods.

Moreover, the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and the AfDB joined with the United States Government, the European Union, and the governments of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop the Lobito Corridor connecting northwest Zambia to the Benguela rail line in Angola and ultimately to the port of Lobito. “There is an urgent need for transport infrastructure on the continent and this project presents a transformative opportunity to enhance regional connectivity, unlock the critical minerals supply chain, promote trade, create local jobs, and drive economic growth in Africa,” Samaila Zubairu, president and CEO, AFC said during the project announcement.

The Board of Directors of the AfDB approved various financing structures valued at $696.41 million for Burundi and Tanzania to start Phase II of the Joint Tanzania-Burundi-DR Congo Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Project. The construction of this railway will allow Burundi to intensify the exploitation of nickel, of which the country has the 10th largest deposit in the world in the Musongati mining fields. The country also has resources such as lithium and cobalt, which are expected to generate significant revenue for the country through the rail link with the port of Dar es Salaam which currently accounts for 80% of the country's import and export trade.

The AfDB also approved a loan of $196.43 million for Namibia to implement the second phase of its Transport Infrastructure Improvement Project (TIIP). The project aligns with Namibia’s long-term Vision 2030 to the country’s Namibia’s logistics value chain by tackling railway infrastructure bottlenecks. It will also help to strengthen the trade competitiveness of Namibia and the southern African subregion. “The project will maximise the benefits and be transformative for the competitiveness of Namibia and assist in attaining the Vision of the country becoming a regional logistics hub by 2030 while catalysing development change in neighbouring countries and the sub-region. This project will also connect Namibia to Africa’s Copper Belt, and achieve regional railway connectivity,” Leïla Mokaddem, the bank’s director general for Southern Africa, stated during the announcement.

Air Cargo

Air cargo serves as a vital artery for Africa, transporting high-value and time-sensitive goods. However, challenges remain. Limited airport capacity, lack of cold chain infrastructure, scarcity of dedicated freighter planes, and cumbersome customs procedures pose significant hurdles, especially for flowers and perishable items which are a significant export for many African countries.

Despite these obstacles, the future of African air cargo is promising. Airport modernisation projects like those underway in Rwanda and Ghana are boosting cargo handling capabilities and attracting new airlines. This trend aligns with the positive outlook from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which forecasts a 5.2% annual growth rate for African air cargo traffic over the next five years (2024-2029). MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company announced the opening of a state-of-the-art 15,000-metre cold storage facility in Durban in March 2024 having a capacity of 8,000 to 10,000 pallets. Moreover, major players like Ethiopian Airlines are further fueling this growth by expanding their freighter network with the addition of five new B777s. Kenya Airways Cargo's recent expansion of its freighter service network, connecting Mogadishu, Somalia to Sharjah, UAE, exemplifies the growing focus on strengthening air cargo connectivity within Africa. Additionally, countries like Kenya and Senegal are implementing trade facilitation initiatives to expedite customs clearance, further streamlining the process.


E-commerce is a significant growth engine, with the International Trade Administration forecasting Africa to surpass half a billion e-commerce users by 2025, which will have shown a steady 17% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of online consumers for the market. Leading the way in this evolution is Ethiopian Airlines with their recent inauguration of a state-of-the-art $55 million e-commerce logistics facility in Addis Ababa. However, streamlining customs procedures and improving last-mile delivery remain key challenges.


Africa's trade is set to soar thanks to AfCFTA's streamlined regulations and air travel initiatives like the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and IATA’s Focus Africa initiative. However, with growth comes responsibility. Sustainable development is also crucial, and industry leaders like Swissport, Menzies Aviation, and African Airlines Association (AFRAA) among others are prioritising eco-friendly practices through IATA’s Focus Africa. This commitment ensures Africa's aviation thrives while minimising its environmental impact.

Overall, Africa's infrastructure is undergoing a revolution, with long-term investments building efficient networks that empower global competition. As partnerships flourish and innovation emerges, a bright future awaits African infrastructure.

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