The launch of a new book on transformational infrastructure in Africa

A new book under the title Transformational Infrastructure for development of a Wellbeing Economy in Africa edited by Professor Desta Mebratu, CEO of ATLAS , and Professor Mark Swilling, Stellenbosch University, was launched at a side event during the African Ministerial Conference (AMCEN) in Durban on Nov 15, 2019.   For more..

CEO of ATLAS scheduled to talk at this month’s  WeAll Talk on 24 October 2019

WeAll Talk is a monthly talk facilitated by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance platform  on a topical issue that is relevant to the promotion of Wellbeing Economy development across the world.  Prof. Desta Mebratu, CEO of ATLAS is scheduled for this month’s  WeAll Talk  on 24 October 2019. His topic is  ‘Infrastructure as key for Wellbeing Economy Development in Africa’.  Please check the details of announcement of the talk here.

How Africa Can Reap the Fruits of BRI

Published in Addis Fortune May 18 , 2019 By Desta Mebratu (Prof.)

Editor’s note: Desta Mebratu (Prof.) (, CEO of African Transformative Leapfrogging Advisory Service.

The second summit of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), launched by China in 2013, was recently held in Beijing. The BRI is an ambitious effort to improve regional cooperation and connectivity on a trans-continental scale. The initiative aims to strengthen infrastructure, trade and investment links between China and around 70 other countries that account collectively for over 30pc of global gross domestic product (GDP), 62pc of population and 75pc of known energy reserves.

This makes it one of the major, if not the major, global development initiative. BRI is part of China’s strategic objective of becoming an economic superpower in a couple of decades. While it is strongly anchored in maintaining China’s long-term national interest, it is quite creative in how it has been promoted to get the buy-in of partner countries from different continents, either by convincing or co-opting them.

A number of African countries, including Ethiopia, have joined this initiative, which claims to benefit all participating countries and the global economy. While the economic and geopolitical benefit to China is obvious, some questions are being raised on how much each country will economically benefit from this initiative.

The most critical objective that all participating African countries should focus on, both individually and collectively, is making sure that their participation in this initiative will make a substantial contribution to the fulfillment of their sustainable development goals. The kind of physical infrastructure that is being discussed under the initiative will constitute the backbone of national and regional economies for the coming decades.

Hence, they inherently have the potential of locking in a country’s economy in a given pattern of development.

One of the major lock-in hazards African countries should be watchful of is not to be locked into an extractive economy that is mainly characterised by the supply of cheap natural resources to the global economy. The second lock-in hazard is the potential to be a dumping ground for obsolete and linear industrial production infrastructure that may make the region a global pollution centre under the disguise of economic growth. This will obviously have a great negative consequence on the wellbeing of its people.

The most critical path through which countries can avoid such lock-in scenarios is by taking every part of the initiative, right from the early stages of planning, through a comprehensive strategic environmental and social assessment process before committing to its implementation. Besides maximising the social benefit and reducing the environmental impact, such a process could also significantly contribute to the long-term economic return from the overall investment. This can be achieved by ensuring optimal integration of the projects implemented under this initiative, both horizontally and vertically, with the respective regional and national development goals and plans.

The second important step would be to deploy existing life-cycle management tools and techniques in the planning and development of each infrastructure component of the initiative. This will enable countries to utilise infrastructural connectivity for developing inclusive, low-carbon and resource-efficient economies. It could also ensure the climate resilience of the major infrastructure to be built by applying the relevant climate-proofing techniques.

Given the nature and geographical scope of the initiative, BRI could have significant potential of making a positive contribution to the fulfillment of the sustainable development goals. However, failure to deploy the right set of planning tools and techniques could, at best, lead to insignificant development outcomes and, at worst, result in major socio-economic and socio-ecological disasters.

Both Chinese and African leaders have generational responsibilities in avoiding the long-term negative impacts of this initiative, particularly on Africa. More specifically, the African Union and its international and regional development partners need to provide coordinated capacity building and technical back-up support to countries undertaking strategic environmental and social assessments of the overall programme in the region and in deploying the relevant life cycle management tools in the planning and development of infrastructure projects.

PUBLISHED ON May 18,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 994]

Africa’s Nuclear Energy Ambitions: Leapfrogging into the Unknown

Published in Addis Fortune, May 4 , 2019 . By Desta Mebratu (Prof.) 

Eeditor’s note: Desta Mebratu (Prof.) (, CEO of African Transformative Leapfrogging Advisory Service.

Ethiopia recently joined a group of African countries in signing cooperation agreements for the development of a nuclear industry sector. Most of these agreements consist of the two distinct but inter-related components that require qualitatively different attention.

The first component focuses on building national capacities for the application and use of nuclear science and technology. This is a very positive development that needs to be pursued by any country, as there are multiple benefits that could be gained from the application of nuclear science and technology in health, agriculture and industry sectors. However, the construction of a nuclear power plant for energy generation is also included in these agreements under the disguise of civilian or developmental application of nuclear science and technology.

Experience from other countries has shown that, under all conditions fulfilled, development of a sound nuclear power sector requires a minimum of 10 to 15 years. This could take much longer for most African countries as they lack some of the basic economic, institutional and technological prerequisites. However, the aggressive campaign that is being pursued by the countries that own these technologies and the increasing tendency of some African countries to jump on the bandwagon seems to compromise the acceptable norms and procedures for nuclear safety.

This will lead to major national, regional and global threats and needs to be debated openly. There are several key issues African countries need to be cautious about when signing up for such package deals in the area of nuclear power generation.

One of the false arguments used for the promotion of nuclear energy is based on the claim that it is the cleanest form of energy and contributes to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from power generation.

It is true that nuclear energy has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy generated. However, the threat from its radioactive waste is of an existential proportion, which will automatically disqualify it from being the cleanest form of energy. For those who claim it to be the safest technology, they only need to reflect on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 to understand the dangerous possibilities.

Even if the technological advances made in recent years have made it much safer technically, the trigger factors from natural and human-made disasters are still high. For several reasons, these triggering factors are more pronounced in regions like the Horn of Africa, where human-made and natural disasters such as earth quakes are still high.

The other misleading justification that is being told by promoters of nuclear energy is that country’s like Ethiopia cannot rely on their huge hydropower generation potential because of the change in rainfall patterns that will be caused by climate change. It is true that climate variation has already become part of our reality and will continue to be a major threat in the coming decades unless appropriate measures are taken by the international community.

However, there is so much that could be done in the area of ecosystem adaptation and catchment rehabilitation to contain and possibly reverse the impact of climate change. Such measures will create multiple economic and social benefits by way of job creation and livelihood provision to local communities besides ensuring the sustainability of hydropower generation.

Development in African countries has been influenced for decades by trends of incidental leapfrogging that is supply-driven by external factors. Most of these developments, which were more of transplanting rather than transforming, resulted in isolated pockets of change that benefited the few at the expense of broad societal benefits.

Ethiopia and other African countries who recently decided to build nuclear power plants need to avoid making such major mistakes, which will result in stranded assets that will incur huge costs for generations to come.

PUBLISHED ON May 04,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 992]

The Need to Rationalise Management of Road infrastructure

Published on Addis Fortune April 26 , 2019 . By Desta Mebratu (Prof.) 

Editor’s note:
Proper development and management of road infrastructure is critical and can be achieved by re-imagining design and development, writes Desta Mebratu (, an extraordinary-professor at Stellenbosch University and head of a regional think tank called ATLAS.

Rational development and management of physical infrastructure, and road infrastructure in particular, is one of the key factors that determine the wellbeing of any community or country. This is because of its direct and indirect economic, social and environmental consequences, which could be either positive or negative depending on how it is developed and managed.

Countries are estimated to lose one to three percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) due to a lack of and mismanagement of their road infrastructure in cities, according to preliminary studies carried out by different institutions in selected African cities. This includes the economic loss associated with time lost due to traffic congestion, costs associated with fuel consumption and spare parts, and health costs associated with pollution and stress.

Most of these societal losses are associated with a combination of a lack of appropriate infrastructure, inefficient routing design and inefficient management of roads including signage. While there is still a lot that needs to be done in terms of road infrastructure coverage, Ethiopia as a country and Addis Abeba as a city stand in a better position in comparison to many Sub-Saharan African countries and cities. And yet, it registers one of the highest per capita traffic accident and fatality rates. This clearly shows that there is much that needs to be done concerning the development and management of our road infrastructure.

One of the key factors to consider from the design and development stage is to significantly reduce the physical contact points between pedestrians and motorists through proper design and management of crossing points. This is not only important to reduce traffic accidents, but it also facilitates a smooth flow of the traffic, thereby reducing economic loss and health hazards from pollution.

The traffic congestion we currently have on some of the major crossing points between the main highways and the light rail system across the main commercial and residential areas in Addis Abeba is a source of major economic, social and environmental costs. Safe and efficient mobility of both cars and pedestrians at these crossing points could be facilitated by building overpass and underpass structures for pedestrians in selected priority areas.

Developing partnerships with business entities, which can use these structures for advertising, and mobilising sponsorship could help to finance such structures. These structures could also serve as a basis for transforming street vendors, which are currently considered a nuisance or even illegal, into recognised traders that provide regulated services.

Besides the proper design and development of the physical infrastructure, a country needs to set and enforce rational speed limits that facilitate the safety of citizens while maintaining efficient socio-economic mobility. In this regard, speed limits by the Roads Authority on major city roads and crossing points within the city need to be strictly enforced by the regulators.

Experiences from other countries have shown that driving with the proper speed limit is very beneficial not only in terms of ensuring road safety. It also contributes to a reduction in costs to vehicle owners from lower fuel consumption and longer life of brake pads. The recent steps taken on replacing the roundabouts, which have become bottlenecks, with traffic lights is a step in the right direction in terms of improving the routing efficiency.

On the other hand, however, setting lower speed limits of 40Km or 50Km an hour on six-lane outer ring roads that connect the city with the expressway is the most irrational and inefficient measure that needs to be corrected. The recent trend of introducing speed bumps everywhere, including on ring roads, is also an issue that needs to be reconsidered.

All systems and procedures can properly function if they are coupled with the right set of attitudes and mindset. One of the most critical challenges the city is facing is the lack of awareness and discipline on the part of both drivers and pedestrians. Looking at how a significant number of drivers are driving and behaving within the city, one starts to wonder where the system has gone wrong.

Here, besides strictly monitoring the licensing requirement, it may be useful to introduce a topic on the specific social responsibility of being a driver in training. We need a similar level of attitudinal change on the part of pedestrians too.

Interestingly, during my trips to the countryside, I frequently notice people walking on the left side of the street having full visual control of the car driving against them. This clearly shows that we are not socially destined to be uncultured. It just requires the provision of consistent awareness and education on traffic management for all sectors of the society, including in early childhood.

It would require revisiting the driving and traffic regulations and procedures with the purpose of apportioning responsibilities on both parties supported with persistent education and enforcement measures.