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‘For Nigeria to industrialise, we need renewable, reliable, affordable services’



A former Director General, United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO) and a presidential candidate in Sierra Leone, DR KANDEH YUMKELLA, was the keynote speaker at the just-concluded 15th lecture and International Leadership Symposium organised by Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), in Lagos. He spoke with BENJAMIN ALADE, on the need for African leaders to manage demographic transition and invest in energy and infrastructure.

What brings you to Nigeria at this time? Are there new initiatives for Nigeria/Africa being promoted by UNIDO?

Really, I am not with the UN anymore, and I’m back in Sierra Leone running for presidency. What brings me to Nigeria is partly to consult with Pat Utomi on the Leadership forum. The expectations of the forum by bringing former heads of state, I want to make sure my messaging is correct, and that I meet the requirement that they have, but also visiting families and friends.

What are the expectations from the leadership programme?

Whenever I have an opportunity to keynote an event, I am looking forward to a dialogue, and when you look at the list of invitees, the number of former heads of state, some of them leaders in their own right; it is to share ideas with them.

I have had my own experience with global leadership, and I have been with global leaders for some time now, and also some corporate leaders, technology leaders, and I have decided to go into African politics and learning the good, the bad and the ugly of that.

So I guess my comments will draw on my experience as seen in other developing countries for example in Asia, how they have transformed their economies. I will draw on leadership failures seen in some parts of the world. I will try to talk a little bit about my own reality, given up my wonderful career to go home and say I want to provide a new political narrative for my people. I want to see if I can be part of the solution of transforming a country that is ranked among the five poorest in the world to make it great.

So I will draw on those experiences, spend a little more time talking about the developmental state; that is one of the most fascinating things I have seen in leadership. What the Asian countries did in 70s, 80s, and 90s to transform themselves using the model of a developmental state from Japan to Singapore. You see countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and China, you see how visionary leaders begin to organise the state pushing for transformation making decisions they know will have impact not only in 10 to 15 years, but to put the country on the path of development.

In terms of leadership where would you say Africa is?

It’s hard to generalise for Africa given our complexities of different histories, cultural, ethnic religious experiences. There are those African countries that are evolving very well, very nicely, and you see them advancing and doing the right thing and beginning to build institutions that could transform their economies. So we have seen some good results in Rwanda, some pockets of that transformation in Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, and of course the usual Botswana. People always cite Mauritius, Tanzania you see them really evolving nicely, you begin to see them venturing into the digital economy.

We live in the 21st Century where knowledge matters, IT and so on, and you see these countries establishing IT hubs. You see them also approaching middle income start-ups; we hope they are not caught in what we call middle income trap, where suddenly in you are in middle income entry, and you get stuck there for two decades, but yet you have others at the bottom of the heap. My country is one of them, others are moving ahead and we are just retrogressing and countries like those as well that are not making progress.

There are countries where democracy has set in nicely, you see others where democracy is manipulated, and some people trying to send us back to the 60s, and you see countries where ethnicity and internal ethno regional issues beginning to emerge, tribal issue.

So it’s a mixed bag, and yet you see countries like Nigeria where you see the middle class and the young generation demanding more. I just found out now that there could be 70 million Nigerians using social media; I could not believe it. I was happy and impressed, which means Nigeria could be one of the biggest digital hubs in the future. It means the young generation are demanding knowledge.

Can the government tap into the dynamism of 70 million social media Nigerians, train them more, make them take over becoming an IT hubs like India, or Bangladesh? This is why you need visionary leadership. You need a leader that will come in to say that, if this is true, my children are hungry for technology and IT; I create my own version of Silicon Savannah. That is what they have done in Kenya; they have created silicon savannah, and that is why you need the visionary leaders to look at that and say: how do I invest in more science technology and education but creating facilities, scholarship, support system that this kids come out and become entrepreneurs, so people can outsource programming and web development for the government in Nigeria.

Lastly, the biggest problem for all of Africa now is the youth botch. We are going to be 1.4 billion by 2030; 2.2 billion by 2050, just around the corner. In other words, we are adding another billion people by 2050, where are the jobs, will we benefit from a demographic dividend or will this be a disaster for us?

About 30 per cent of the people below 30 will be in our Continent, how does that become the engine of growth for manufacturers, for production systems, given that we have 60 per cent production of the world’s uncultivated arable land? Can we the best world, can this be a disaster waiting? Unemployed youth, unskilled, lack of infrastructure, lack of job opportunity, and then we have civil disorder. Can we prevent that? We need visionary leaders that look at 20/30 years, not just today, to create an inclusive society, and give these kids skills and entrepreneurship so they become big entrepreneurs creating wealth that our nations would need.

What are the challenges of the continent’s economic competitiveness, and how would you rate Africa’s competitiveness to other continents?

Well, I guess the indicator will have to go by the competitiveness ranking of the World Economic Forum, and the World Bank; we are not doing very well. I don’t see Africa at the top of that ranking. A good number of us are way at the bottom, so in terms of competitiveness, we are not doing well in economic competitiveness.

Secondly, if you look at the cost of doing business ranking as well, we are not doing well, and I think that is one big issue governments should look at. If you want to attract investment, our address have to be good, people have to know that if I come here to build factories, they can manufacture here and ship without hassle. That is what the Asians have done very well, I have been to Australia, Sri Lanka, these places; yes people are building factories there, it is far, but they produce and ship to Europe, sometimes, the United States.

So we are not doing very well on competitiveness, we are not doing well on cost of doing business. I don’t believe we are doing well on skill formation as well. Beyond just basic education, it is also identifying those artisan skills that can be used on the factory floor beyond the degree. Good electricians, good welders, good mechanics, good fitters that can work in factories building cars, building machine, building computers, being part of what we call the global value chain. This means you don’t have to produce the whole product; you just have to produce one component of the product, or you can assemble things to finish the product that is being part of the global value chain.

My biggest obsession is energy. To be able to industrialise, we need renewable, reliable, affordable service, if we don’t have that and I know Nigeria when I worked here 15 to 20 years ago, we had problem with energy here, and when I saw the queues again towards petroleum issues, I said: ‘Oh my God, 20 years later, this problem still exists here? Nigeria has cheap labour, but when you begin to look at the other bottlenecks, Nigerian industries are not competitive because they have to provide their own electricity, provide their own water, and clear their own sewage.

I just gave you some indications that we are not very competitive, so if you come to the forum exact, I want to share ideas with this leaders that these are some of the areas that we must tackle as government, as leaders. That is what I saw in Asia, heads of state and their cabinets becoming the best friends of business, and the private sector. Why? They were building infrastructure, provided systemic competitiveness for the movement of goods, clearing of goods, clearing their licences quickly, going paperless in terms of transactions just to reduce the time it takes.

How do we do that, how do we commit ourselves to the whole concept of industrial estate? Some countries have been building industrial estates very effectively, where the government provides the lands, clears the space, brings the energy supply there the sewage system, the water, and people lease that plot to produce cheaply and ship out again, value addition.

Also, to take a look at our comparative advantage; when I worked in Nigeria, I used to push heavily for the industrialisation of cassava because I couldn’t believe it, the largest cassava producer in the world, we consume most of it, like 90 per cent of it raw or as semi processed. But in Thailand, they try to produce 15 products from cassava, and in Brazil.

How come we have not industrialised this to make flour, to make use of some of the products like the Malaysians have done with palm oil. I took Nigerian ministers to Malaysia, including Pat Utomi, that time and the Manufacturers’ Association, and the Minister of Science and Technology, and Industry to Malaysia, and said: ‘let us see how this people use science and technology management to modify palm oil and made it an industrial product,’ and they were trying to make 30 products out of one palm oil – value addition to raw materials that we have in abundance.

I also asked a question, I think between Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, they may account for 30 to 40 per cent of the world’s cocoa production; they are now making chocolates and selling. That is the new Africa we want to see, value addition. But you create the business environment, and say fine, make the money in Cote d’Ivoire or Ghana, and make the money in Europe, and one time when I visited Malaysia, they were also introducing their new brands of chocolates, so I joked with them, and said: ‘hey to start, you are going to produce cocoa.’ They said: ‘no, we don’t need to.’

Forty years ago, we needed the genetic material for oil palm, but in the modern days, we don’t need to grow it, we just need the raw materials. We can competitively produce high value chocolate and sell to the rich. So Nigeria, with 180 million people are also used to producing cocoa and oil, they have oil like Malaysia, Malaysians had gas, they used that money to drive agriculture led industrialisation they call it. They didn’t forget agriculture because they discovered gas.

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