In pursuit of socio-economic transformation, African countries have often tried to either follow into the Western or Asian development footprints, often too, oblivious to the fact that their systems may not be compatible back home.
During the first day of the inaugural African Transformation Forum (ATF) in Kigali, yesterday, several economists said Africa does not need to follow anyone’s development model but rather chart its own path to unlock rapid and sustained growth.
The two-day meeting is co-hosted by African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET), one of Africa’s leading think-tanks, and the Government of Rwanda.
It seeks to unlock Africa’s rapid and sustained growth and establish the continent as part of the global supply chain and make Africa globally competitive not only in terms of exports but also as a frontier manufacturing base, through peer-to-peer exchange of ideas on transformation pathways.
Carlos Lopes, the executive secretary for UN Economic Commission for Africa, said the continent has the privilege of being the transformation “latecomer”, to acquire, learn and reinvent other development models to fit into the African context.
“Africa needs structural transformation; which is changing the compositions of the economic structure. And the best way to do it is through industrialisation,” he said.
But what kind of industrialisation?
Lopes said it cannot be the industrial experiment that Americans, Asians or Europeans used. None.
“It has to be a completely different one. If you look at those experiments in other parts of the world, they do not adjust to our (African) needs right now, because they were implemented under the world economic conditions that are no longer available to Africa,” he said.
Africa for Africa first
Lopes said African industrialisation has to benefit the continental and regional market first before it goes beyond, with special emphasis on agro-processed products, and value addition to mineral exports.
“For instance, if we transform minerals by 15 per cent and export them, we can create five million jobs a year.
You can choose to export melted copper and coltan, this does not need sophisticated technology, it only needs electricity and you export an improved product,” he said.
Lopes said Africa needs effective structural transformation by making significant productivity gains in rural areas with agri-business, translating Africa’s youth bulge into a demographic dividend, access to social services that meet minimum standards of quality regardless of location, reduced spatial and gender inequality and making progress toward an inclusive green growth.
Kingsley Amoako, president of ACET, said value addition to Africa’s main exports will bring a huge contribution to her development.
“Africa has abundant land, we have to make use of it by making it more productive. With the right manufacturing, in terms of agro-processing and value addition to our minerals, Africa can leverage our development path,” he said.
Amoako called on African countries to open up markets for each other to promote intra-regional trade, and allow free movement of goods and people if the continent is to create jobs for her 80 per cent youthful population.
Rwanda leadership lauded
Meanwhile, several speakers lauded Rwanda’s leadership, saying it has steered the country to a desirable level, compared to many African countries.
Amoako said Rwanda’s leadership has promoted sustainable and inclusive transformation and facilitated institutions to participate in accelerating the country’s economic growth.
Claver Gatete, the minister for finance and economic planning, said the conference is timely since it would provide Rwanda with relevant information that could propel the country to further development ambitions.
The minister said the just concluded 13th leadership retreat discussed about Vision 2020, implementation of the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, and drafting of Vision 2050, which requires a lot of inputs.
“We haven’t even reached the middle income status yet, so we are far away from reaching where we need to be.
We have started preparing Wision 2050; looking at how far we need to reach and the transformative ingredients we need in that vision. To move our economic growth to double digits, we need input of passionate Africans who will challenge us to reach our potential. This is partly the purpose of this meeting,” Gatete said.
The forum has attracted some of the continent’s leading analysts drawn from various backgrounds.
It comes at a time African countries have been called upon to work closely to deepen integration and scale up trade with one another for sustainable development.