Economic Report on Africa 2015
On the 5th of October, a talk at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London brought Africa into the focus. Entitled ‘Industrialising Through Trade’, the talk was designed to bring the challenges facing industrialisation in Africa to the focus. To present the ‘Economic Report On Africa’ created by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), a panel was assembled at Chatham House to discuss the challenges facing the continent, and the potential way forward. The panel was flanked by three distinguished academics and professionals. Dr Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist at the United Nations Commission for Africa, lead the discussions. Also a discussant, Professor Machiko Nissanke, Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. The discussion was chaired by Dr Gita Honwana Welch, Associate Fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House. From 5pm until 6pm, the panel debated the finer aspects of African industrial policy, and the effect that various economic and political forces had on its history, and way forward. The floor was also opened up to questions from those in attendance.
Dr Abdalla Hamdok lead the discussion, beginning with a thematic introduction of Africa’s role in the world. “The shift of power from the G8, G7, to the G20,” Dr Hamdok stated “[creates a] multi-polar world that is good for Africa”. Dr Hamdok also contrasted the population compositions between the west and the emerging nations. He highlighted that the youth population in the emerging world was on the rise, at the same time that the West was experiencing ageing populations. However, this is unexploited, as the jobless growth experienced in Africa leads to the youth being left behind. Professor Machiko Nissanke agreed. Since 1980, she stated, poverty in Africa has only reduced by 10%. Stating that six of the world’s most unequal countries are in Africa, Professor Nissanke emphasised the low rates of job creation.
A role for the government
Trade and industrialisation, Dr Hamdok stated, are “two sides of the same coin”, and stated that the service industry increasingly plays a role in the transformation process. However, Dr Hamdok stated, “there is an active need for government to engage in industrialisation, cannot simply leave it to the ‘invisible hand’ of the market”. Professor Nissanke agreed, while adding that government must partner with non-government actors such as private enterprises in order to achieve development goals.
“Governments cannot monopolise knowledge…they have a role, proper partnership with private partners. Mobilising aspirations of private partners is a very important part of the industrialisation process, that should not be forgotten”
Professor Machiko Nissanke, Professor of Economics, SOAS, London
A new way
At the core of the discussion, was the need for Africa to move on. The de-industrialisation that occurred in Africa’s so-called ‘lost decade’ of the the 1980s and 90s cannot simply be reversed. Industrialisation, it was agreed, does not mean simply regressing to the old policies of the 1960s and 1970s, as this is a new era. The key to this new era of industrialisation and modernisation lies in two concepts: infrastructure and innovation. Dr Hamdok stated that infrastructure must first be addressed, otherwise everything else is simply ‘wishful thinking’. Africa as an innovator is the concept which most captured the hopes for Africa, and its potential as a world leader in technological advances going forward. “R&D,” Dr Hamdok stated, “are contextual, so Africa must promote its own innovation”. Professor Nissanke highlighted the role that active ‘learning by doing’ has in promoting innovation, and generating growth that will allow economic empowerment for the many. “[Africa] can create a very active learning by doing environment. Africa itself can be an innovator. It’s not only adopting, but adapting technology”.