By Abdullateef O. Abdul
Whilst Africa is perhaps the fastest growing region with an annual average growth rate of 5% in about the last decade, the growth has largely been based on commodity trading and extractive industries, and has therefore proven neither economically sustainable nor inclusive as a development strategy. We must therefore think anew and evolve novel solutions to existing challenges.
A key solution to most of the problems undermining our continent’s development potential consists in achieving inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Africa. Such inclusive and sustainable industrial development would create employments, reduce income inequality, generate dependable revenue to government, eradicate or at least alleviate hunger and poverty, reduce crimes, and pave the way towards robust economic development.
How then can Africa achieve inclusive and sustainable industrial development? In the first place, we must appreciate that creating a better Africa is not a task just for African Governments, the African Union or the African Development Bank. It is a collective task incumbent on all stakeholders.
In my view, the first step towards achieving inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Africa is through a widespread reorientation on the tested route to economic development. I say this because it is often that one hears analysts, Presidents, Ministers and other leaders declare or suggest that cocoa or other commodity or agriculture in general is the route to the economic prosperity of a nation. Some state governments in Nigeria, not long ago, even went so far as declaring work-free days for civil servants to work on the farm. But the time-tested reality is that it is industrialisation, not commodity trading and extractive industry, that drives economic boom. Hence, we should spend more time discussing, encouraging and strategizing on industrialisation. Rather than repeatedly telling Africans to go to the farm, we should instead focus on how Africa can use industrialisation to get the most value from our agriculture and extractive industries.
At the heart of industrialisation is infrastructure. Indeed, industrial and economic development cannot be attained without addressing the challenge of infrastructure deficit in the continent. Achieving inclusive and sustainable industrial development therefore requires investment in infrastructure, such as roads, airports, railways, waterways and energy, which is needed to boost commerce and link Africa to the global economy. While the need to revitalise the African economy through infrastructural development projects is recognised, the challenge remains financing such projects especially given the intensive cost requirement of infrastructure projects and industrialisation.
For this reason, the creation of easier access to finance for infrastructure projects and industrial development is another top priority. In this wise, African governments have an obligation to create conducive business climate in Africa in a way that enhances and optimises local investments and attracts foreign direct investments. To this end, African governments must first intensify in their efforts towards ensuring the safety and security of lives and properties in Africa. Also, African governments must project transparency, good governance, and political stability, and thereafter promote policies that facilitate infrastructure projects and access to finance for businesses.
However, the task of ensuring the provision of infrastructure and easier access to finance cannot rightly be left to the governments alone. Given the intensive capital and expertise requirements involved in these projects, African governments are unable to wholly fund and administer infrastructural development projects. It is therefore imperative for the private sector and government to leverage on other viable options, such as the Public Private Partnership arrangement. Further option for African entrepreneurs consists in African organisations, such as the African Development Bank, which are also advancing the cause of industrializing Africa by supporting businesses with requisite finance, an instance of which is the Ethiopian Derba Midroc Cement project.
Another pivot towards achieving inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Africa is embracing innovation and technology. Innovation is pivotal to all human progress and development, including creating a new Africa of our dreams. Technology is central to industrial development, diversification and upgrading, and is essential to pace and competitiveness in a fast and continually-evolving world.
Achieving inclusive and sustainable industrial development also requires investing in human capital since modern business is knowledge and skill intensive. This investment relates to education at the basic, secondary and tertiary level; formal trainings as well as facilitating research and development programmes.
Finally, Africa’s industrial planning and construction processes must take due cognisance of environmental considerations. This is because sustainable industrial development can only be achieved through the integration of all the pillars of sustainable development, including improvement in the environmental performance of industry.
In conclusion, Africa continues to experience economic growth. However, this growth has not delivered the much-needed development in the continent. The reason is not far-fetched. The growth is anchored on commodity trading and extractive industry. What Africa requires for effective economic development is inclusive and sustainable industrial development, the ultimate end of which is to realise a self-reliant Africa which harnesses its human and material resources for its prosperity and posterity.