Institutional reforms: The critical factor to attracting infrastructure investment in Sub-Saharan Africa

This page in:
Improvements in the quality of governance can be an important driver of private investments Improvements in the quality of governance can be an important driver of private investments

Infrastructure is an unmissable driver for development in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. It not only stimulates private investment and productivity growth, but also facilitates domestic and international trade , while safeguarding the environment. Yet the infrastructure needs in the region to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are immense, and largely unmet. The World Bank estimates that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa need to invest 7.1% of their GDP annually in SDG-related infrastructure, but have actually only been investing around half of this level, 3.5% of GDP. 

Between 2015–2018, governments in the region have shouldered the bulk (90%) of infrastructure financing from their own resources or external borrowing, leaving the small residual (10%) to the private sector.  And while already insufficient compared with needs, it is likely that the capacity of governments in the region to finance infrastructure in the next decade will shrink. Average public debt over GDP was estimated at 71% in 2021 (up from 43% in 2013), increasing debt service obligations at the expense of other expenditures—including investment infrastructure—and reducing countries’ attractiveness for creditors given heightened debt distress risks. And recovery from COVID, including for governments to mobilize domestic resources, will take time. 

Clearly, given the limited fiscal latitude, the substantial infrastructure needs in Africa cannot be met unless there is sizeable response from private sector financing, to which all eyes are now turning . But how much private sector infrastructure financing can countries in the region realistically attract, and how can it be attracted? 

A recent study explores this question using a novel data set covering all important infrastructure projects conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2008–19. It suggests that progress (or deterioration) in countries’ governance indicators explain most of the variations over time in private participation in infrastructure (PPI) within each country in the region. Among them, the indicator capturing the quality of the regulatory framework—such as the existence of an independent regulator, fair competitive practices, and investment freedom—influences more PPI variations than other governance indicators such as the control of corruption, the rule of law, or voice and accountability. The study also suggests that progress in the regulatory framework generates higher investment payoff in countries where these are inadequate, often also in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV).

Such results confirm anecdotal evidence. In Senegal, the regulatory reform aimed to introduce a transparent and competitive bidding process in the power sector unlocked a foreign direct investment of $52 million (0.2% of GDP) in solar energy in 2018. In Ethiopia, an FCV country, the issuance of competition and licensing directives in 2019 within one year opened up the telecom sector to private sector participation with a first investment of $850 million (0.9% of GDP) to acquire an operating license, to be followed up by over $1 billion in additional infrastructure investments. These are just two measurable examples where changes in the regulatory frameworks led to increased PPI financing.

Using these results allow us to simulate the impact of improving the regulatory framework on PPI in each country in Sub-Saharan Africa based on respective current situations and the observed recent dynamics of progress, or deterioration, in regulatory frameworks. It turns out that continued progress (or reversal in deterioration) over four years could raise PPI over GDP by 0.8 percentage points on average, rising up to more than 1.5 percentage points in countries such as Rwanda, Gabon, Liberia, Madagascar, and Mauritania. At the aggregate regional level, it would mean an additional $20 billion worth of investment in infrastructure by 2025 compared with a situation of unchanged regulatory quality.

Attracting private investment will be critical for Africa to make steady progress towards the SDGs . This is why engaging proactively with governments in the region and the private sector to improve regulatory frameworks and mobilizing private capital at scale is at the center of the World Bank Group strategy to create markets and opportunities, particularly in the poorest and fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Related Posts

Rethinking how to attract the private sector in public infrastructure assets and services in Africa

Address today’s challenges to build a sustainable long-term PPP strategy for Africa

Yes, it is possible to finance critical infrastructure in a tight economy

New data shows private investment lends a hand as public debt looms large


Zivanemoyo Chinzara

Economist, Middle East, Central Asia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan region, IFC

Stephan Dreyhaupt

Principal Economist, Africa Region, IFC

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000