Tribune ‘For an African industrial plan’ Fighting for industrialisation and sovereignty is the same
If we assemble, manufacture, produce ‘made in Africa’ products for Africans, we will regain the only sovereignty that matters, our economic sovereignty. We must supply our countries and our continent. We need to give substance to the continental free trade area, because in fact this – extremely strategic agreement – is intended to promote the free movement of goods…which do not yet exist, and for a good reason!
By Ibrahima Sarr*
But if we develop our industrial capacity, in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa, then we will be self-reliant; we will no longer be ‘price-takers’, but ‘price-setters’ – those who set the prices. We will create our own consumer market and take advantage of the 1.2 billion consumers that we are. We will reshape the mindset of those who supply us today. We will talk to Africa’s foreign partners on an equal footing and offer our know-how and – new – added value. We will no longer accept huge loans in return for infrastructure; we will give our continent the role that it deserves in the global economy.
I dream of the day when we can show our latest-generation factories and turn them into global references. The day when we welcome engineers from France, India, USA, South Korea or Mexico, to learn ‘what’s good in Africa’. The day when products designed in West Africa are exported market in other parts of the world – emerging or already emerged regions! The day when we have our own industrial training institutes, with African examiners looking into the applications of candidates from elsewhere, because at that time we are at last in a position to choose the young engineers we want to train – and transform them, once they ate back home, into ambassadors of ‘made in Africa’ know-how as part of an economic influence strategy. I dream of the day when not only we have understood the rules of the game, but when we know how to set these rules.
For an industrial renewal: let us all come back to the drawing board to develop regional action plans
Let us get out of the dream and wake up! Have our politicians really understood this issue? Of course, there are so many problems: access to essential services, diseases, social issues, human development, education…While writing these lines I am particularly aware of this, working myself with an association, Actions pour l’Espoir, which is active in Senegal and the Gambia to build wells, schools, health centers, and also sponsor orphans. But I want to say it loud and clear: we must not confuse our priorities. Industrialisation must be a priority. An absolute priority.
Of course, it will not be easy to change things and move to a result-oriented approach in this field, and all the more so as, in the industry, we have to look far ahead, thinking simultaneously about building units, selecting relevant products, vocational training. It is also important to consider those who might be displeased with a vast programme for industrialisation and african production – because truth is that today, importing foodstuffs and products makes many people happy. Other opportunities have to be created to replace existing ones – bureau in charge of inspecting foreign imports can become new experts in pan-African tracking and logistics. Change and the industrial renewal is also a matter of pedagogy.
All this points to a difficult programme for just one country to implement. The good news is that Africa as a whole is waking up, and that the African continental free trade area is being put in place. We can work together; we can define competitive advantages per country so as not to compete with each other; we can pool funds – private or public ones, the atter coming from local finance laws or from international donors – to create training institutes for our young people. We can structure value chains over several countries – and perhaps we will soon have Beninese cotton producers as suppliers at Afritex. We can create strong links between future industrial hubs and technology hubs so that ‘made in Africa’ digital solutions support the real economy on the continent – and I am sure that beyond consumer applications, there is an incredible market for digital developers who want to move forward in B2B with us, the industrialists. We can ask ourselves the right questions now and elaborate a structured and efficient approach. We have so much to build that there is room for everyone. Competition should not be a hindrance and should not drive our efforts.All the countries of the continent can benefit from this approach if an effective dialogue and concerted plans at the regional level are put in place.
So, let us all get to the drawing board. It is time for us to move from the “Africa we want” of the African Union’s 2063 agenda to the “Africa we live in”. And industrial players – of all sizes, not just the big ones – need to be able to work better and in coordination with policy makers. I call for the creation of regional and multidisciplinary working groups in each region of the continent, bringing together ministries of industry, ministries of employment, professional federations, banks and regional donors, financial experts capable of helping us develop a real pro-industry tax system, but also representatives of tech clusters, in order to work on concrete and operational proposals within the framework of the AfCFTA. These working groups should define in each region: the priority sectors for industrialization, the countries that should be the first to start because they have already a catchment area, the regional specialization strategy, the needs in terms of development and skills transfers – the most industrialised countries in Africa today certainly have a role to play. Let us work together, develop recommendations inspired by the field in each region as a first step, and then let us move towards pan-African coordination. Let us work together, in a collective approach. In Africa, the ‘silo’ strategy does not lead to results – when the approach is only country by country, each with “its” industrial plan focusing on actions within national borders, validated by a large international consulting firm not always aware of the realities on the ground, often difficult to finance, and sometimes written just to satisfy specific political objectives without any follow-up. The silos are weakening us because they help other countries export to Africa.
Real power is collective power. And industrializing the continent is the most beautiful collective project we can all take part to.
¨Ibrahima Sarr is General Manager of Multi-Industries Group
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