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UNECA identifies youth population, structural transformation as elixir for industrialisation

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Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Carlos Lopes

Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Carlos Lopes

Against perceptions that Nigeria and other African countries are not ready for industrialisation, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has stated that the continent’s opportunity lies in its natural resources which provide an opportunity for value addition and commodity-based industrialisation.

According to UNECA, the continent has an abundant and youthful population which, if effectively harnessed, will constitute a pool of productive labour for emerging industries with the rapid pace of urbanization on the continent adding to the impetus for industrial development.

Indeed, the commission’s Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopes noted that bold leadership and strong policies are needed to support Africa’s industrialization.

“As latecomers to this process, an effective structural transformation for Africans means making significant productivity gains in rural areas with vibrant hubs of agri-business and linkages across industrial activity; the translation of Africa’s youth bulge into a demographic dividend; access to social services that meet minimum standards of quality regardless of location; reduced inequality – spatial and gender; and progression towards an inclusive green growth trajectory,” he said.

This, Lopes added, was the reason the ECA advocates an inclusive structural transformation agenda that is anchored by the three dimensions of sustainability; economic, social and environmental.

“Industrialization in Africa is not only possible but desirable, even though sceptics were many, what was clear on the ground was that the continent is ready for industrialization”, he added

In a keynote address to delegates at the London School of Economics’ Africa Summit, Lopes said: “It will happen, nevertheless, only if strong industrial policies do promote them. This requires bold leadership and a very prominent role for the State.

“The current megatrends in Africa suggest that the continent is ripe for structural transformation. Africa is endowed with an abundance of natural resources which provides an opportunity for value addition and commodity-based industrialization.”

Furthermore, he said, the continent has an abundant and youthful population which, if effectively harnessed, will constitute a pool of productive labour for emerging industries with the rapid pace of urbanization on the continent adding to the impetus for industrial development.

Already, infrastructure spending in Africa has risen by $25 billion since the early 2000s and currently accounts for four percent of GDP.
“Notwithstanding these trends, the continent has not fully capitalized on its potential for structural transformation,” he said.

“African countries need to do more to diversify their economies and develop the productive capacities of their youthful and abundant labour force to realize the demographic dividend and achieve structural transformation.”

The Executive Secretary spoke about Africa’s development saying structural transformation should be driven from increased agricultural productivity, industrialization or natural resources value-addition, all the way to smart urbanization and inclusive social models.

Noting that the developed world adopted protectionist policies in the earlier stages of their economic development, Lopes noted that active government interventions were required to promote inclusiveness of the growth process and to minimize the environmental costs of industrial development.

African countries should also pay attention to the possibility of upgrading, not just through the development of physical production capabilities but also through the development of producer services, such as design, marketing, and branding, he said.


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