Africa, despite being a rich continent endowed with vast natural resources, is still lagging behind other regions of the world when it comes to industrialisation.
Member countries still export commodities in their raw form and get next to nothing for these commodities and at the same time spend billions in scarce foreign currency to import finished goods for consumption by their people.
African countries are failing to trade among themselves due to an ineffective manufacturing industry, even in the wake of the coming on board of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) earlier this year.
It is against this background that senior journalists, business writers, and experts from across the continent as well as experts and representatives from partner organisations this week met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, to interrogate how the continent can move forward and industrialise.
Organised by the Industry Division in the Department of Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission, the meeting sought to build media awareness on the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA)’s framework and related strategies.
As we have previously mentioned, Africa continues to part way with its raw minerals, and buying them back as finished products for a high fee from international markets.
Exports from the continent remain dominated by unprocessed or minimally processed products, mainly from the agricultural and mineral sectors, resulting in very low value returns.
It should be noted that Africa’s Regional Economic Communities namely the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Maghreb Union (AMU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African States (COMESA) have been grappling with the issue of industrialisation over the past few years but seemingly to no avail.
Africa is less industrialised today as a result of the infamous Structural Adjustment Programmes than it was in the 1980s. Private investment on the continent is very low. Africa’s high levels of population growth is unprecedented. Rural workers continue to flock to cities and towns, thereby exacerbating the situation. There are few manufacturing industries to absorb these as most countries are dominated by the informal sector. Statistics show that most of the foreign direct investment (FDI) only goes to a few countries, namely Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana.
The continent therefore continues to wallow in poverty as it is not getting value out of its resources which are exported in their raw form and investment policies of member states do not seem to be attracting investors to drive the industrialisation agenda. Above all, beneficiation of minerals is still largely being ignored.
While African leaders on the continent must be commended for their efforts towards ensuring the development of the continent through adopting policies on industrialisation and beneficiation of minerals and commodities, the region, the private sector on the continent needs to come on board.
The continent’s leaders must sustain the momentum and gird their loins to ensure that what has been agreed upon must be implemented without further delay. The first port of call would be to work on projects that have been identified in the region, and these range from the power and energy sectors, water, construction, roads, railways and ports to health and social programmes that will improve the lives of the people on the continent.
As experts mentioned during the meeting in Addis Ababa this week, there are vast opportunities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has rare minerals such as coltan, which is vital in the information communication technology industry, as well as cobalt. The DRC also has vast electricity potential on the proposed Grand Inga Scheme which can provide power for the entire continent.
There are vast oil and gas deposits in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudan, Mozambique, and Kenya, just to mention a few countries, and there is no reason why these must not be exploited for the betterment of the people on the continent, a majority of whom still lack access to energy. Exploiting gas and using it as form of energy has the added benefit stopping desertification on the continent, where the majority of the people still use wood as fuel for cooking.
Experts say Southern Africa alone is most likely sitting on massive natural gas reserves of more than 600 trillion cubic feet which the region must exploit to reduce a heavy reliance on biomass energy and wood.
Again there is a need for countries on the continent, working with partners like the African Development Bank (AfDB), to implement these projects and ensure there is more power for industrial development. There is no doubt that without power, there won’t be any industrialisation and beneficiation to talk about.
Solar power must also be pursued as an alternative form of energy for lighting, especially in rural areas that are off the main power grids. The continent enjoys abundant sunshine throughout the year but sadly, hasn’t taken advantage of this God-given resource to light up homes.
Infrastructure projects like roads, railways, sea and air ports must be speeded up if Africa is to achieve its long cherished goal of economic emancipation.
There is also the much-talked about univisa which allows for free movement of people in the region to promote trade and tourism and we believe there has not been enough political will to implement this. Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and Africa is endowed with flora and fauna that promotes tourism. A promotion of intra-Africa tourism will go a long way in luring tourists from abroad to visit the continent and thereby go a long way in developing this industry as a long hanging fruit.
The coming on board of the AfCFTA, we believe, should therefore be used as a catalyst to fuel the industrialisation drive on the continent.
To drive Africa’s industrialisation agenda forward, the media therefore plays a critical role in conscientising politicians, business people, the civil society as well as technical experts on what needs to be done to bring this fruition. The conveners of the meeting in Addis Ababa this week must therefore be commended for bringing journalists together so that they critically examine areas that Africa must work on in order to reach its fully potential. It is none but ourselves who will create the Africa that we want.