Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Pay attention to public infrastructure

I have been privileged to visit a number of countries in the continent ranging from the Southern region to the East, West and even one in the Maghreb. 

What strikes you almost invariably once you leave the swanky airport for your hotel, is the deplorable state of buildings, schools and roads. As if that is not enough, the traffic jams are also unbearable throughout the day.  

As you traverse the city centre, you also begin to note that once upon a time, buildings were elegant but have deteriorated over time due to poor general maintenance including simple lack of repainting. At the same time you somewhat draw comfort from the fact that some of these  buildings were built over a hundred years ago but still stand solidly, giving testimony to the good workmanship that went into their erection.  So on another day, the buildings are far superior to the shoddy buildings that we here in Botswana get from Chinese contractors. 

So these countries find themselves with decaying infrastructure because they paid little attention to maintenance. Over time, economic conditions also worsened and maintenance became a luxury they could least afford.  It helps to remember therefore that the countries in question, didn’t just wake up one day and find themselves saddled with decrepit infrastructure.  This then is the lesson that we must draw as we watch these countries now struggle to keep their infrastructure in mint condition, if you like. 

In a similar vein, I have been looking at the state of public infrastructure in Gaborone since the beginning of the year and there is cause for concern.  The potholes which permeate our streets are horrendous. Occasionally, you notice feeble attempts by the City Council workmen to patch them up not with bitumen but clay!   It is a mystery why they cannot get the right inputs to patch up the potholes. This is a sign of bureaucratic incompetence which has  in turn , thrown us into a hilarious cycle because once it rains all that repair work is washed out and we are back to our lovely potholes. And we are just talking about Gaborone although Botswana as we all know, is not Gaborone.

I have also been to advanced Western countries as well as Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Unlike the Africa countries that I mentioned earlier on, in the West they repair their roads at every turn and make no excuses for bad roads. This might seem trite but surely any country that fails to execute a simple chore such as repair of roads is not in a position to handle the intricacies of transforming its economy into high income. Show us that you can deal with the small assignments before you clamour for sophisticated stuff. So show us first that you are made of sterner stuff. 

If we turn our attention to street lighting in the nation’s, capital, the situation is not any better. Vast swathes of the city’s streets are dark. And to put things in perspective, we once again go back to the advanced Western countries, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. We see that in these countries things work and that they have not lowered their standards to treat dark alleys as things that cannot be resolved because of rampant theft of underground copper cables.  To them, putting that up as a reason for perpetually malfunctioning street lights   is an excuse that is not to be tolerated.

That fact of the matter is that we are simply failing to carry out basic maintenance of our public infrastructure.  We have a choice to either nip this problem in the bud or let it fester and thereby become just another African country which is unable to maintain its infrastructure. We have a reached a fork on the road.  The choice is ours.

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