Africa Industrialization Day …time to turn COVID-19 into an opportunity

SANF 20 no 51 – by Kizito Sikuka 
The COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the global socio-economic landscape has brought to the fore the need for Africa to industrialize and trade more with itself than the outside world.

Speaking ahead of the Africa Industrialization Day commemorated each year on 20 November, regional integration experts said an industrialized Africa has the capacity to shield itself from any global commodity volatilities that have continued to dictate the direction of Africa’s trade and economic progress.

Furthermore, industrializing the continent would mean less raw resources being shipped and traded elsewhere, enabling African countries to fully benefit from their natural resources, as well as create employment for its citizens.

In this regard, it is critical for the continent to tackle and seize any hard realities or threats such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and turn them into opportunities for emboldening industrialization and intra-Africa trade.

For example, an increased demand for medicines and medical supplies during and post the COVID-19 period should create a conducive environment for Africa to establish its own pharmaceutical industries.

Another opportunity is to collectively work together to ensure that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a huge success.

Set to be operational on 1 January 2021, the AfCFTA is one of the tools for effecting a fundamental structural transformation of Africa’s economy as it aims to dismantle trade barriers among African countries by deepening integration through improved infrastructure development, investment flows and enhanced competition.

Addressing a virtual meeting of the Africa Industrialization Week which opened 16 November, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Vera Songwe said industrialization is imperative for Africa’s development, particularly now that global community is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has openly exposed the hollowness of African economies on several fronts including the fragility and weakness of Africa’s industrial capabilities,” she said, adding that “there is an opportunity for the continent to reconfigure its development narrative towards prioritization of initiatives that support Africa’s industrialization.”

Dr. Vera said without a transition from commodities to value addition and economic diversification, African economies will have limited room to grow and development, thus “industrialization holds key towards building socio-economic resilience, and self- reliance in Africa.”

She said even in the face against any difficulties or challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa should not lack determination to industrialize its economy because a large part of its growth and prosperity hinges on the continent trading more with itself.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary, Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax concurred, adding that the novel coronavirus had “clearly shown how far we are from realizing the developmental goals” of advancing integration and sustainable development in the region.

“As a major driver of the planned transformation for the region, the industrial sector is one of the sectors significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a statement to commemorate Africa Industrialization Day.

Dr Tax said it is therefore important for the region to “understand and appreciate the extent of damage that the pandemic has on their economies, and respond with appropriate measures to ensure that the disruption does not seriously negate key developments in the industrialisation drive of the region.”

One such measure is to put in place vibrant business stimulus to cushion the private sector from the effects of COVID-19 as well as gear them to partake in the opportunities created by the pandemic.

Commissioner for Trade and Industry at the African Union (AU) Commission, Albert Muchanga also said public-private partnerships are crucial is advancing the industrialization agenda in Africa.

He said it is for this reason that African leaders set aside 20 November as the Africa Industrialization Day in recognition of the need for the continent to undertake annual stocktaking of where we are on the journey of industrialization.

“The Africa Industrialization Day was also proclaimed to enhance public awareness of the importance of industrialization in the structural transformation of the African economies,” he said.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization in the AfCFTA Era.”

Bringing together all the 55 African countries, the AfCFTA aims to promote the smooth movement of goods and services across all the continent.

According to the AU, the AfCFTA has the potential to increase intra-regional trade from the present 10 percent to about 40 percent.

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