Western nations and lending agencies say they will provide $1.4 billion to expand transport and trade links in eastern and southern Africa to help the region boost economic growth.
Reuters says leaders of countries in the region are meeting in the Zambian capital Lusaka, to discuss plans and attract funds to boost road, rail and port links as well as energy projects that could help spur regional trade and change the lives of millions.
Organisers say better routes will enable African countries to compete in trade with the rest of the world.
Under the plan, upgrading and maintaining roads alone would require a total of $7.4 billion over 20 years.
“Africa is a continent endowed with immense natural resources and yet it remains the home of the poorest,” said Zambia President Rupiah Banda.
“Transport, energy, civil aviation and other infrastructure development has lagged in Africa and we need to adopt an approach which will motivate implementation of private and the public sectors.”
The overall aim of the project is to cut poverty in the world’s poorest continent, which officials say has been worst hit by effects of the global financial crunch.
The cash pledged so far would be provided by the World Bank, Africa Development Bank, European Union and Britain.
Officials say the funds would be used to finance new projects and upgrade existing infrastructure, which include 8000 km (4970 miles) of road, the equivalent to the road distance between Paris and Beijing, and to rehabilitate 600 km of rail track linking eastern and southern African countries.
The leaders met under a regional grouping dubbed the North-South Corridor, a joint initiative by the various countries and three regional trade blocs. It aims to speed up transport links, especially for landlocked countries.
Once in place, the corridor will link businesses in eight African countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Africa needed fair trade with Western nations more than aid to develop.
“It’s the job of Africans to strengthen themselves through trade… this is a matter of survival,” Museveni said.
Britain said it would separately provide 100 million pounds ($149.2 million) for the region’s infrastructure to increase trade and mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis.
The North-South Corridor covers the mineral-rich Congo, Zambia, Africa’s top copper producer, and South Africa, the world’s top platinum producer and third-largest gold producer.
Transporting a single cargo of copper from the Congo copperbelt to ports takes weeks, whereas in Europe the same cargo would reach ports within a fraction of that time.
The new North-South Corridor could see such cargo moving faster across African borders, enhancing trade and investment.
Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki said the countries had agreed to build new power projects to ensure access to roads, rail, telecommunication links and electricity.
“The shortage of electric power remains a major constraint of economic development in our countries,” Kibaki added.