Africa’s Industrialisation Day: Has UN, or Africa, learned enough?

07Dec 2017
The Guardian
Africa’s Industrialisation Day: Has UN, or Africa, learned enough?

NOT many people are likely to have been aware that November 20 was Africa’s Industrialisation Day, an observation marked by the African Union Commission, chiefly.

It is partnered by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) plus the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), while other agencies lend a hand, especially regional organisations. As it was the 23rd annual marking of Africa’s Industrialisation Day, it’s basically a failure story.


Looking at the tale of industrialisation, there was a brief surge of industries in a number of countries in the mid-1969s up to the 1970s where the focus was central planning. This came to a head and onward to collapse after the great oil price shocks from October 1973 at the time of the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East to end of 1974. Broad purchasing power declined steeply and remained so for about a decade, to the start of major reforms in the later years of the1980s, for most states.


Tanzania’s experience is in many ways a mirror of what is happening broadly in African countries, in that industries are being sought after as a service, to take care of the youth bulge phenomenon. This relatively youthful population is increasingly being urbanized as the spread of education combines with improved infrastructure to make cities or urban centres far more accessible. Failure to put this population to work createssocial pressures, and at times political entrepreneurs, forming militias.


Reports from Addis Ababa on the way key UN and AU agencies marked Africa Industrialisation Day showed that the focus was importance of industries for inclusive and sustainable development. The other side of that theme was the challenge faced by African countries in mobilizing first its own leaders and also international organisations to advocate for accelerated industrialisation for Africa. It doesn’t take much training to notice that the convergence point here is more aid.


As it is the case for a host of other issues when it comes to Africa’s development or growth process, plenty of emphasis is given to awareness, implying that there is no independent economic mechanism leading to that objective. Such an impression also enables one to grasp 23 years of Africa Industrialisation Day while less than10 percent of the population is as yet living from industry as such. Tanzania has for instance used most of the last 30 years to wait for older industries to produce again.

Saying for instance that ‘industrialisation is the primary driver of economic growth and job creation’ is to put the cart before the horse, for it doesn’t say what drives industrialisation in the first place. Mentally this leads to the need for industries in order to get jobs and thus incomes, the mainstay of inclusive growth, and naturally seeing this as something to be given top priority by governments, for instance in the case of the fifth phase authorities here. But there is scarcely any clarity on why older industries failed in the first place and if conditions exist for revival, growth.


There are measures being taken to remove some weak points like leaking public coffers, faulty procurement systems, compulsive leisure in government and public sector entities that marked their own ‘inclusiveness’ in globalisation. There is clear managerial improvement in the government and it is likely to be reflected in the public sector as a whole, the condition needed to discuss the bigger issues of how to create dynamic markets to absorb goods, use skills, etc. It starts with discipline.

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