Growing project management in Africa

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In recent years, Africa has gone from being described as ‘The Hopeless Continent’ (The Economist magazine, 2000), to ‘The Hopeful Continent’ (The Economist magazine, 2013). This hopefulness may be attributed to sub-Saharan Africa being home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world; the improving business climate and interest from foreign investors; and transforming governments and governance, to name just a few positive indicators.

Infrastructure is central to Africa’s development and contributes significantly to the continent’s per capita growth rate through enhanced productivity as well as the socio-economic development that results from more advanced infrastructure.

For Africa, infrastructure means far more than bricks and mortar. It means information technology systems, enhanced financial services, enabling telecommunications solutions, governance protocols, improved service delivery, new sources of energy, and optimisation of our endowments of natural resources. In short, infrastructure means progress, and
infrastructure means projects.

In May 2014, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its report titled: “African Strategic Infrastructure Initiative, Managing Transnational Infrastructure Programmes in Africa – Challenges and Best Practices”, which highlights just how interconnected the African continent is in terms of its development goals.

Quoting from the report’s introduction, “In Africa, the Priority Action Plan of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA PAP) encompasses 51 programmes of regional importance in the transport, water, energy, and information and communications technology (ICT) sectors, with an investment need of $68 billion. The aim has been to get these programmes implemented by 2020, but the realisation of that aim is hampered by the tremendous challenges the programmes face, often because more than one country is involved.

“Although these challenges may arise in any region, they are particularly severe in Africa. The continent is so heterogeneous – with 34 official languages, in addition to a plethora of local tongues, and more than 40 currencies, with great variation in the financial capacities of individual countries. Moreover, the maturity of public institutions remains inadequate, and serious shortcomings persist in the capability of and capacity for managing transnational infrastructure programmes.”

The spotlight is, indeed, on Africa, and the time for the skilled African project manager is now.
South Africa’s government has reviewed the requirements of its infrastructure plans from the resource perspective and identified project management as a
critically scarce skill.

There has been much attention paid to the South African Infrastructure Bill and its aim to fast-track regulatory decision making on infrastructure programmes. As the SA Qualifications Authority-recognised professional body for generic project management in South Africa, Project Management South Africa believes that whether or not this introduces another layer of red tape is less of a concern than how the government intends to address the skills shortage.

PMSA concurs that competent project managers are essential to project success; however, there is still a lack of recognition for project management as a profession that on the one hand requires a combination of knowledge, skill and personal characteristics in those leading projects; and on the other, an up-to-date awareness of the standards, methods and best practices that should be an extension of the project manager’s competencies such that they do not endeavour to take on a project without the appropriate regard and support for their profession and its body of knowledge.

The challenges are well stated in the WEF report and even more so are the best practices proposed to overcome them. This lays the right foundation and highlights the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders on the continent in improving the rate of project success.

The new legislation and the many developments on the continent have been the catalyst behind the theme for the 2014 Project Management South Africa conference titled: “Growing Project Management in Africa”.

PMSA celebrates the professional practice of project management and its now extreme relevance on the continent, acknowledging the determination, innovation and creativity applied to overcoming some of the challenges associated with achieving project success in Africa.

Through its Biennial Conference 2014, taking place in Johannesburg from 29 September to 1 October, PMSA aims to explore the nature of projects in Africa.

What does it take to achieve success and contribute to a body of learning that can guide strategic project management and thus serve contemporaries in the project disciplines across the spectrum of industries?

A significant portion of the programme will be devoted to the infrastructure imperatives facing our government and those participating in the global initiatives referred to in the WEF report.

In addition, many good practices and project innovations were grown right here in Africa. Others have been borrowed from the ‘developed’ world and made relevant to our local reality. Still others have yet to be discovered while we develop a better understanding of what Africa needs and how the stakeholders in project management can provide it.

PMSA invites all interested parties to become part of the dialogue, by joining a three-day journey of learning and knowledge exchange as we remind each other why we believe in this continent and the many opportunities she presents.

PMSA has issued a Call for Papers and Industry Presentations, and registration for the event opened in June. Visit the PMSA website at for more information.

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Issue 29


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