Africa’s biggest new infrastructure endeavours will transform the continent’s transportation and energy landscapes in 2024

Analysis in brief: The top-five ambitious infrastructure projects underway in 2024 are all grand in cost, scale and impact. They all share a goal of moving Africans and African cargo faster and more efficiently while providing new forms of energy to power transportation upgrades.

On all infrastructure fronts – dams, energy, rail, road and seaport – mega-projects will be expanding in their reach and scope throughout Africa in 2024. A sampling of some of the most impressive of these projects, which will significantly change the lives of Africans, finds they all share one commonality: their impacts will extend far beyond the nations where they are being built.

These projects can be divided into two categories: transportation (be it air, rail or road) and energy, which will provide the electricity to power new electronic vehicle technology. While these projects are significant, they are merely the largest manifestations of similar projects being undertaken on a smaller scale throughout the continent.

African air transport will advance via big new regional airports

Continuous renovation, expansion and construction of airports are underway in nearly all African countries. These efforts are exemplified by Ethiopia’s and Rwanda’s new airports. These two nations have evolved into the aviation hubs of their regions – Ethiopia in East Africa and the Horn of Africa and Rwanda in Central Africa. However, both countries are reaching their capacity to serve airlines and their customers, and they require massive new airports to handle anticipated growth in air service.

Ethiopia’s airport in Addis Ababa will soon reach its limit of being able to handle 25 million passengers a year, and in 2024, Ethiopia’s government will begin construction on a US$6 billion airport that, combined with the current facility at Addis Ababa, will allow for 125 million air passengers to use Ethiopia as an air transit hub.

Rwanda is building a US$2 billion airport south of Kigali to handle 14 million passengers and 150,000 tons of cargo a year. Qatar Airways is a major financer for the facility and will have a 60% ownership. The international partnership is important as Qatar Airways will use Kigali as its African air hub. Importantly for African air travellers, a Rwandan hub means connectivity to other African destinations rather than having to fly to European hubs to then travel back to other African airports.

The partnership between Qatar Airways and the government of Rwanda has borne additional fruit with RwqndAir and Qatar Airways launching the Kigali Cargo Hub in mid-2023.
Image courtesy: International Airport Review

Rail and road transportation expands through mega-projects

Similar to air transport improvements, rail link expansion is underway in nearly all African countries. One of the most ambitious is Angola’s Lobito Atlantic Railway. Construction will begin in 2024 on Angola’s largest railway project, one that will significantly impact Southern Africa upon its completion. Financing was secured late in 2023 from the US, the European Commission and the African Development Bank. Connecting Angola’s port at Lobito with the rail lines of neighbouring inland countries, this project is the largest US investment in African rail in history – one agreed to by US President Joe Biden during a face-to-face meeting with Angola’s President João Lourenço. Significant to meeting the challenge of food security in impoverished Angola, the rail line will connect agricultural land with markets and make Angola a food exporter, according to the Angolan president.

The US$550 million system connects with northern Zambia and will offer swift access for that landlocked country’s exports to Angola’s port. The line is also designed to extend to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), another largely landlocked country. The DRC needs to diversify its economy from the export of raw minerals, and the Lobito rail line will provide a means to do so. On a global level, China has dominated Africa’s infrastructure development this century, and the Lobito Corridor investment is a way for the US to counter this course.

Highway construction and road repairs are perennial activities in all African countries. The biggest of these undertakings in 2024 will be the Abidjan-Lagos Highway Development Project. West Africa’s most significant roadway will see major construction progress during the year. In 2013, the heads of states and governments of Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo agreed to upgrade an existing network of disparate roads along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor into a uniformed six-lane dual-carriageway multinational highway. Upon completion, vehicular traffic will have fast and unimpeded movement between the capital cities of Abidjan, Accra, Cotonou, Lomé and Lagos.

Financing was secured from the African Development Bank and the European Union towards the project’s US$16 billion cost months before the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the commencement of construction in 2020. The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States has indicated that construction of the 1,028-km Abidjan-Lagos highway project is set to commence in January 2024. Half the highway’s length is in Ghana, which is particularly keen to reap the rewards of higher commercial and tourism access. The Abidjan-Lagos Corridor carries 75% of West Africa’s trade; this percentage will likely grow as the new highway opens in three phases.

Powering transportation infrastructure is massive green energy projects

The literal empowerment of the new electronic vehicles, including ships and ground service vehicles used at airports, is one benefit of the two major African energy projects of 2024. The first is Africa’s most controversial dam, the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam. Construction is finished, and the dam will begin generating electricity in 2024 to the eventual production of the 5,000 MW needed for Ethiopia’s domestic energy needs and for export to other energy-challenged countries. Electricity generation is now possible with the complete filling of the dam’s lake, which was announced late in 2023. The impact this clean energy source will have on reducing East Africa’s global-warming-causing carbon emissions is calculated to be significant.

China has an enormous stake in the dam’s success. Chinese banks provided financing for the 1.8-km-long structure, facilitated by the Chinese government, on condition that essential equipment and technologies were purchased from Chinese companies. On an environmental note, the dam is more user friendly with regard to Nile River water because its highland location causes much less loss of water to evaporation than Egypt’s Aswan Dam, located in the desert downstream. Egypt and Sudan have been alarmed by the dam since its conception, fearing it will reduce the amount of Nile River water on which those countries depend. Ethiopia has downplayed these concerns and has proceeded unilaterally to fill the dam, in violation of international law, according to Egypt and Sudan.

Finally, solar energy will continue to see advances throughout Africa in 2024. It’s not the size of the SOLA Group’s 195 MW solar plant, under construction in South Africa’s Free State Province, that makes this project one of the most noteworthy this year, although it is a sizable project. Rather, the way the energy generated by the US$ 158 million project will be sold and used is unprecedented in the energy-challenged country. Throughout Africa, independent power providers are contracted by electricity buyers, or the power is contracted by governments for use in local or national power grids. Beginning mid-2024, the SOLA Group, South Africa’s largest independent power provider, will begin selling non-contracted power to whoever wants it on a flexible time basis, depending on the duration of a buyer’s needs. This pioneering approach will result in a more responsive energy system.

The SOLA Group’s 195 MW solar plant under construction in South Africa’s Free State Province
Image courtesy: The SOLA Group

The power that will become available from this project in 2025, together with the company’s three other solar projects, will generate 1.34 TWh annually. This is enough to power about 500,000 homes in a country whose collapsing power grid threatens to tip the economy into recession in 2024. Also remarkable about the SOLA Group’s plant is its fast construction time of 15 months – a harbinger of the speed that must become the norm if Africa is to meet its energy needs while simultaneously transitioning away from fossil fuels that are responsible for the climate change effects that are endangering the continent.

The critical points:

  • Investment in Africa’s transportation and energy infrastructures is massive and represents confidence in the continent’s economic future
  • Big transport infrastructure projects – such as Ethiopia’s and Rwanda’s new airports, Angola’s Lobito Corridor rail line and West Africa’s Abidjan-Lagos highway project – are merely the largest of similar projects being carried out in nearly all African countries on local levels
  • From the massive new power-generating dam in Ethiopia to innovative solar energy plants in South Africa, green solutions are being sought to power transport systems and provide for all of Africa’s energy needs