When I was taking part in a Blog Talk Radio show today focusing on Zamtel and other ills , someone quoted the CIA World Factbook assessment on telephone infrastructure : "91,80o main lines in use....[the general assessment is that] facilities are aging but still among the best in Sub-Saharan Africa". At the time, I simply pointed out the 91,800 was of course even more depressing than it sounded, because it is heavily skewed towards the urban areas. I had the graph below in mind showing the rural-urban public telephone access divide.
However, it was the second part of the CIA World Factbook statement, that "facilities are aging but still among the best in Sub-Saharan Africa" which sunk in. Though I got away without responding to it (the person who raised the issue was in any case was emphasising a different point), I couldn't get the CIA conclusion out of my head! In particular, I wanted to know just how Zambia compared to other countries in terms of infrastructure access. The first piece of data I came across is the chart below (click to enlarge), which combines World Bank and Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic data. Zambia remains below the low income sub-Saharan average in terms of telephone, mobile and electricity access, but with slightly better performance on access to improved water sources.
Logistic Performance Index (2007)
Poor infrastructure spend of course explains these differences, so I was not surprised to find the depressing chart below. At around $50 per person, infrastructure spending per capita in Zambia remains significantly below the African average ($75), and certainly no where near the more aspirational countries like RSA and Namibia.
Infrastructure Spending : Zambia Vs Selected African Countries
But I still wanted to know more, on how we have spent money on communication and transport in the past below. Thankfully, I had the chart below somewhere on this blog which shows that Zambia's spending on these two sectors has actually been declining since the 1970s. But what is even more revealing is that the Mwanawasa years appeared to have reversed the second part of the Chiluba years (i.e. the post SAP years). We know that transport and communication infrastructure are critical for growth, but for Zambia its even more important given its landlocked position.
So now for the big question : just how do we scale up investment in these sectors, when we have no money ? At this point, I invoke the blogger's defence: the post is too long already and those issues are being addressed elsewhere on this blog, so I can end here!