For decades, Africa’s industrial development — either as a concept or in practice — has featured in all bilateral and multilateral engagements at regional, continental and global levels. A latecomer in transforming its resources-based economy to one that is driven by technology and innovation, Africa’s industrialization process has begun to expand to meet the needs of its growing population.
The African Development Bank estimates that the continent — endowed with vast natural resources such as rare earth minerals, and marine and agricultural products — is sitting on more than $82 trillion of discovered natural resources, with the potential to contribute $30 billion a year in government revenues over the next 20 years.
However, with all the wealth from natural resources, Africa remains underdeveloped. The extractive industries that existed during and after the colonial period plundered Africa’s resources at the expense of its fragile economy. Weak and unstable governance structures in the 1990s continued to exacerbate the underdevelopment of the continent.
Meanwhile, developing countries in Asia and other continents have been shifting their industries from light to heavy. This policy shift lifted these regions’ economies out of the doldrums and created an enabling environment for sustainable industrial growth that has become the driving force in their continuous industrialization process.
Industrial development in Africa is still attainable. This can be achieved by fully implementing two action strategies already in motion.
The first is the strategy for the continent. In 2008, during a summit themed “The industrialization of Africa”, African leaders endorsed and adopted the plan of action for the accelerated industrial development for the continent. The strategy contained seven actionable programs, including the promotion of infrastructure and energy for industrial development; upgrading production and trade capacities; industrial innovation systems; R&D and technology development, and human resource development for industry.
The second is the partnership strategy. In 2021, during the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Dakar, Senegal, China promised to undertake 10 industrialization and employment promotion assistance projects for Africa through industrial partnership and production capacity cooperation.
China’s success story has led many African states to pursue similar industrialization strategies. A resource-intensive growth model — boosted by its strong dual economy — has made China a pillar revered as the “world’s factory”, which supports the global resources supply chain, while creating jobs and eliminating poverty.
Tried and tested, the partnership strategy is a game changer for Africa’s reemerging industrial process. From 2000, the China-Africa relationship has boosted Africa’s industrial development through the FOCAC and Belt and Road frameworks. China has helped the continent build nearly 100,000 kilometers of highways, about 10,000 km of railways, about 1,000 bridges and approximately 100 ports and large-scale power facilities. These infrastructural developments have begun to spur industrial growth in the continent.
Indeed, with the continental and partnership strategies in motion, Africa’s industrial development is no longer a pipe dream. In the post-COVID-19 era, African regional economic communities and governments are breaking down trade barriers, improving financial structures, and investing public resources in much-needed infrastructure projects in the manufacturing, transport and energy sectors.
However, despite having vast natural resources, Africa’s industrial development still suffers from uneven energy structures. Furthermore, in coping with global climate change, African countries face dual challenges: modernization in its infancy, and daunting low-carbon transition.
To mitigate these, African countries need the continuous support of experienced countries such as China to provide alternative options to solve the problem of energy shortages and realize a sustainable industrialization path that is environmentally friendly and suits their own characteristics and purposes.
China is committed to seeing inclusive growth in Africa and assisting the continent to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2063. This is achievable through the implementation of the FOCAC industrial partnership and cooperation, as well as the accelerated industrial development for Africa.
The author is the Executive Director of the China-Africa Center at the Africa Policy Institute.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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