Africa, the continent that is plagued with enduring arguably the worst of climate change’s wrath and yet contributes the least to the problem
On November 20th – Africa Industrialization Day – African leaders and international organizations will meet. Their goal: proving that Africa can combat past industrial mistakes and demonstrate to the world that green industrialization is possible.
Africa Industrialization Day
Intending to mobilize African leaders, the United Nations established Africa Industrialization Day in 1990. Their mission is help Africa overcome the challenges many of its countries face as they continue to develop. Recognized worldwide, Africa Industrialization Day gives leaders a chance to share input to create a more sustainable industrialization process.
Africa, being one of the last continents to be fully industrialized, will be in an interesting and promising position, should its countries be able to overcome the tough situations stacked against them.
Residing Challenges to Africa’s Economic Development
The United Nations Economic and Social Council Economic Commission for Africa submitted a paper that highlighted some of the toughest situations Africa, as a continent, still faces today.
- Many countries in Africa continue to struggle with inadequate infrastructure. Despite a plethora of natural resources, many people still have limited access to energy, water, transportation, communications, etc., all of which pose a big barrier to development.
- The development of human capacity and skills continues to be insufficient, stemming primarily from inadequate education and poor health conditions.
- There are undiscovered talent and ideas among African peoples, but limited access to finance keeps business from launching.
- Arguably the most prominent challenge that plagues Africa is its nature of political unrest, of corruption, and of conflict, which continues to lead to high uncertainty, investment risks, and currency volatility.
- On that note, if high uncertainty and risk do not deter foreign investors, not having standards that mirror international expectations may send big investors running.
- Lastly, Africa is experiencing a technology gap. Certain African countries have moved from limited technology (pre-industrial) straight to smart phones, skipping the technology that came between industrialization and the information age (e.g. the type-writer, the desktop, etc.). Though this is all well and good, the leap in technology leaves some room for error and gaps in terms of keeping up with the emerging technology.
Industrialization Effect on the Environment
All that being said, many countries in Africa have overcome the odds and created promising emerging economies. What is perhaps most promising about Africa is that they are in a position to create a different path toward industrialization – to secure sources of water, goods, and energy in the most sustainable ways.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa submitted an economic report entitled: “Greening Africa’s Industrialization“, in which it is argued that green industrialization makes the most sense for Africa. Auxillia Ponga of Lusaka Zambia, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Planning and Development said: “The heavy reliance on natural resources, low productivity, high energy and material intensities, contribute to the high production costs that undermine the global competitiveness of Africa’s industrial sector. Greening industrialization is therefore an opportunity for Africa to achieve the type of structural transformation that yields sustainable and inclusive growth, creating jobs while safeguarding the productivity of natural assets” (Auxillia Ponga, July 2016).
Fittingly, the theme for this year’s Africa Week was “Strengthening Partnerships for Inclusive Sustainable Development, Good Governance, Peace and Stability in Africa”.
Evidently, Africa faces many challenges, but also much room for growth. If Africa can mitigate some of its risks and carve a path toward greener development, the potential reward for investors may come to outweigh the risks and Africa will hopefully see a bright future.
We’ve covered the “Big Picture”, but what does Africa Industrialization Day mean for hopeful Africans?
Before we get too philosophical, here is my two cents. I asked 3 people I came across while living in South Africa for 8 months if they had heard of Africa Industrialization Day: one a student, one an emerging entrepreneur, and one a successful business owner. The response was unanimously, “Africa Industrialization Day – never heard of it”.
It is excellent that world leaders and African leaders come together on this day to help layout an innovative path for Africa. However, we must not forget that its people are what bring countries their success. I am hoping this Africa Industrialization Day will come to be recognized by the citizens who live on the continent – that the focus will include the big picture, but also focus on helping everyday citizens with great ideas get on track to create and grow sustainable businesses. Here is to hoping this year’s Africa Industrialization Day includes initiatives that are less top-down and perhaps more active/more of a Grameen Danone solution.
To wrap it up…
Africa’s industrial development has been stalled since the 1970s. It is initiatives such as this day that will help Africa overcome its deep-rooted challenges. Africa Industrialization Day is an opportunity for everyone – African leaders, citizens, international organizations – to put their heads together, to discuss ideas and plans, and to ensure Africa has the best shot at a promising sustainable future.