Infrastructure development, including transportation, telecommunications and energy networks, is essential for improving economic opportunity as well as human well-being.

Infrastructure development may generate substantial positive and negative externalities. Infrastructural development creates opportunities to reduce the isolation, and lack of access to essential services, that many rural people experience. It is essential for enhancing the creation and application of science, technology and innovation in development (UN Millennium Project 2005b). It may also exacerbate resource extraction, especially where weak governance regimes exist.

Many African countries inherited transport and communication systems that were designed to serve the interests of former colonial masters, focusing on the movement of goods to ports without facilitating cross- border trade and regional integration (Katerere and Mohamed-Katerere 2005). One consequence of this is high transport costs. In SSA, freight costs are about 20 per cent higher than those of their competitors (AfDB 2004).

Infrastructure affects patterns of production and consumption by firms and individuals (UN Millennium Project 2005b). High transport costs, long distances from the point of sale and the lack of transport infrastructure undermine the market opportunities for natural resources. These factors coalesce to undermine the incentive to engage in value-adding activities that could result in the more efficient and productive uses of resources which may counter tendencies towards overexploitation. Access to electric power is crucial in terms of productive options, and telecommunications are essential for the flow of information.

African countries need to adopt strategies to improve their infrastructure in ways that address these challenges. Infrastructure is one of the eight priorities of NEPAD. Policymakers need to recognize the dynamic role that infrastructure development can play in economic growth, development and conservation. For infrastructure to become more effective, developing countries need to adopt and enforce infrastructure standards (UN Millennium Project 2005a). From the early design stages, they need to promote the interoperability of infrastructure systems, not only nationally, but also regionally and internationally. Standards should be drawn up and implemented so that they do not create barriers to innovation.