Africa is an obvious public-private partnership (PPP) opportunity-in-waiting—the continent boasts high demand, global goodwill, and strong government support. Money seems freely available. The facts speak for themselves:

So much need.

Africa boasts 12 percent of the world population and staggering riches in natural resources, yet produces only 1 percent of global GDP and 2 percent of global trade. The lack of good infrastructure hurts, increasing the cost of imports by 40 percent and reducing business productivity by 40 percent. Of the $93 billion needed annually for infrastructure investment in Sub-Saharan Africa, only about $25 billion is being spent, leaving a lot of opportunity. Public finance will resolve only a small part of this need. PPPs must play their part.

So much good will.

While aid budgets are contracting globally, there is increasing support to Sub-Saharan Africa. The G20, G8, World Economic Forum, and others cry out for more investment in Africa generally and more PPP initiatives specifically.

So much rhetoric.

Every development conference and private investment forum seems to focus on Africa as the place aid money should be spent and the next dollar can be made. Heads of state and development institutions give lip service to the role of PPPs in solving every woe: lagging growth, insufficient jobs, and poor infrastructure.

So much capital.

Aid money isn’t the only asset being drawn to the continent. As one of the world’s fastest growing economic hubs, as money flees from Europe and continues to stagnate in the U.S., Africa is getting more and more attention.

Each of the elements listed above, which should spell success for PPP in Africa, also work against it. Here’s the flip side:

So much need.

The investment requirements are massive. This leads governments to expect too much from PPPs and at the same time to seek something fast and easy. But PPPs are neither. A good PPP project, like a good marriage, takes time and effort; trying to do things quickly and easily tends to lead to failure.

So much good will.

Donors and companies both chase projects, tripping over each other to “support” promising initiatives, as each vow to show (often unrealistic) results. Government officials tend to buy the pitch, but the high sticker price, or the demands for a blanket guarantee, lack of financing, or just inability to deliver overwhelms those hopes. And in chasing the smoke and mirrors, governments often sow confusion—contracting agencies don’t know whether to develop projects or wait for the illusory promises to bear fruit. Real opportunities are left to wither on the vine, and good investors watch in dismay, unwilling to enter the fray, or frustrated by real projects taken away at a late hour by governments wanting to go faster. The lure of “standard gauge railways” in East Africa is a case in point. Somehow governments were convinced that the meter-gauge rail that they currently have is backwards, even though Japan, most of India, and much of Australia run on meter gauge. Instead of investing in improving and expanding their existing rail system, and investing in standard gauge only down the line (pun intended), these governments are looking to invest many times the amount in developing new standard gauge rail for questionable benefits to the detriment of other solutions. Real investors and government staff dare not propose anything else.

But governments should know better, as these fanciful promises rarely work out; and the private sector should know better, for a project obtained in such a manner is intrinsically vulnerable to claims of bias or corruption, to questions of legitimacy.

So much rhetoric.

Governments love to talk big about PPPs, but without much willingness to spend. Rarely do they take the time to do it well, and as a result, misunderstandings about the mechanics of PPPs persist.

So much capital.

The money spent chasing investments in Africa, and the capital chasing commodities, is a vicious distraction. This promise of easy money (in particular in new oil and gas countries like Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda), and the temptation to spend future revenues, undermines the good work done to focus on efficiency through PPPs.

But this “disappointment” should be seen relative to the circumstances. PPPs have been used in different countries to do some good things: to attract investment and efficiencies, for example, and to help guide public sector reforms. Where PPP solutions have flourished, governments have invested time and effort. It has never been a quick fix or an easy solution. Chile spent 30 years developing its PPP program; the U.K. took a decade just to get things moving; and India struggled through a number of failures, over-priced projects, and frustrations before gaining momentum in PPPs.

And yet we look to Sub-Saharan Africa, where resources and skills are most limited, and expect PPPs to blossom overnight. Maybe our expectations need to be realigned. The shoots of progress emerging in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania should give us hope for the future. We should quit looking backwards at unrealized and unrealistic expectations, and put our hands back to the plow. There is work to be done.