By Jerome-Mario Utomi
The United Nations General Assembly, in 1989, proclaimed November 20 “Africa Industrialization Day” A/RES/33/237. This decision flows from the framework of the Second Industrial Development Decade for Africa (1991-2000).
Since then, the United Nations has held events on that day throughout the world to raise awareness on the strides made to industrialize Africa, highlight the various activities being implemented as well as the challenges faced in the efforts to advance structural transformation in Africa; provide an opportunity to share best practices from other parts of the globe that have made advancements in their Industrialisation drive including the development of start-ups; reinforce the industry-trade nexus in the context of the business opportunities presented by the AfCFTA, among others.
Essentially, this year’s Global Observance of Africa Industrialization Day 2020 has as theme; 2020; Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialisation in AfCFT and Covid-19 era’, has among other objectives; Bringing together various stakeholders involved in Industrialisation on the Continent. promote the implementation of AU continental frameworks such as; the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA); the Africa Mining Vision (AMV), the SME Strategy; the Boosting Intra-African Trade strategy (BIAT); the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) and the UN General Assembly’s Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III) in the context of Agenda 2063; As well as build momentum ahead of the planned AU Summit on Africa Industrialization and Economic Diversification in 2021.
Certainly a well thought out celebration particularly as industrial development is of critical importance for sustained and inclusive economic growth not just in African countries but around the globe.As it is laced with capacity to enhance productivity, increase the capabilities of the workforce, and generate employment, by introducing new equipment and new techniques while increasing the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
However, to make this celebration more rewarding in socioeconomic terms for Africa, this year’s event needs to be constructive and strategic. It calls for sober reflection among African leaders, demands solution-oriented questions from development practitioners and a collective agenda setting role from fair-minded and well-foresighted Africans who currently view as accurate the European’s historians’ description of Africa as a dark continent lit only by the flashes of foreign penetration and has contributed nothing to world civilization, within this period.
Aside Africa leaders’ inability to industrialize their continent becoming a reality to worry about, this year’s celebration in the opinion of this piece should seeks answer to; why the continent despite being the second most-populated continent in the world (1.2 billion people), represents only 1.4% of the world Manufacturing Value added in the first quarter of 2020? Why out of over 51 countries in Africa as continent, only South Africa qualified as a member of BRICS, an acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa? And, why African countries continually look up to other continents such as; Asia, Europe and America for aid after almost 60 years of independence? Is this reality not overtly telling a story of a continent lacking in capacity to take responsibility for its actions and initiatives for values?
On this day, at this time and in this place, what can the continent showcase in terms of advancements in industrialization and best practices when it is unable to create a platform for knowledge exchange? How do we celebrate industrialization day when China is principally in change of Africa’s industrial and infrastructural development? And at a time when the Chinese development aid to Africa, going by reports totaled 47% of its total foreign assistance in 2009 alone? When China according to reports , funded over 1,666 official assistance projects in 51 African countries with at least 70% of China’s overseas aid sent to Africa from 2000 till date.
For emphasis, some of these projects include but are not limited to; the African Union building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which cost $200 million to build and was, handed over in 2012. Recently also, China announced its willingness to give the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a $31.6 million grant to build a new headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. China’s scarves have found their largest African market in Egypt, which imported supplies worth $45 million in 2014. The nations also have a healthy exchange of carpets, with multi-million dollar supplies traveling in both directions. – Dozens of African hospitals have been built with Chinese funds in recent years. China’s largest commitments in Africa are to infrastructure projects, such as Nigeria’s $8.3 billion Lagos-Kano rail line, largely funded through Chinese loans.
Considering the above realities, coupled with the slow growing economy but scary unemployment levels in Africa,one vital point that is more important than the celebration is that the continent will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until these basic decisions/steps are taken.
First and very fundamental, aside from responding to the global call on African leaders to reinforce development of regional industrial value chains towards the creation of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for MSMEs, provide high-level political support to drive a globally competitive Africa-Industrialization program through public-private alliances, at the national, regional, continental level, and aligned global policy coherence, coordination and linkages, investment financing,the continent urgently needs leaders/ human resources to contemplate tackling the perennial power/electricity generation challenge which is the building block and enabler of industrialization..
Address the funding challenge faced by small and medium scale industry operators, tackle infrastructural gaps/shortfalls and decay in the continent. Promotion of Local Content policies, find answers to insecurity challenge in the continent by recognizing that globally, ‘a nation’s defense capability has to continually upgrade as new technology, especially information technology, is incorporated into weapon system. This requires a sound economy that can afford to pay for new weaponry and a highly educated and trained people who can integrate the various arms into one system and operate them efficiently and effectively.
To get the process of re-writing the narrative started, there are constructive steps that African leaders urgently need to take, first and very fundamental is for Africa leaders to remember that on 25 July 2016,, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2016-2025 as the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III). With UNIDO charged with leading the implementation of the Decade, in collaboration with a range of partners.We must therefore as a continent work out the modality that will ensure the success of this vision which is to firmly anchor Africa on a path towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development.
While the above is ongoing, it is equally important that African leaders do more to strengthen the real economy which is concerned with the production, purchase and flow of goods and services within an economy as well as the real sector (non-financial and non-government sector) which produces goods and services, which are sold in exchange for a share of total wages and government revenues.
Catalyzing the process will again necessitate African leaders borrowing body from Asian tigers in order to raise Africa’s industrial soul. They need to analyze and understand the essential ingredients of foresight in leadership and draw a lesson on how leadership decision making processes involve judgement about uncertain elements, and differs from the pure mathematical probability process. Find out why Asia after grappling with the problems of unemployment in the region, their leaders came to the conclusion that the only way to survive was to industrialize.
There is certainly an ingrained lesson for Africa to draw from the above decision. .
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; email@example.com. Or 08032725374