Africa leaders and top government officials are always happy to point to the narratives about Africa rising, which is centred on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, the neo-liberal models which are the driver for Africa rising seem not to bring to the consciousness of the leaders that the growth is generating poverty and inequality. And, it is fundamental to note, the market fundamentalists that are very happy to show that six out of the 10 countries in the world that have experienced rapid economic growth are in Africa, nonetheless, they do not point to the truth that, those countries are experiencing unprecedented brutal poverty and growing inequality. A pointer case is Nigeria where the country had rebased her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and celebrated economic growth; but, the country poverty stands at about 69 percent.
Many of the leaders who have joined the narratives of Africa rising debate, do not see industrialization as fundamental to an integral part of the nation’s development agenda. And in some countries like Nigeria, leaders hide under the practice privatization which usually turns out to crony capitalism as a pursuit for industrialization.
This is a deviation of what was attainable in the 1960s, after the independence, when countries particularly those in West Africa, pursued manufacturing economy and industrialization as an integral part of their development planning process. Unfortunately, during the structural adjustment programs period, the 1980s and 1990s, countries across West Africa abandoned industrialization discourse and replaced it with privatization discourse. This encouraged the commercialization of state-owned enterprises, and the implication was the collapse of industries and manufacturing economy across countries in the region.
For instance, in Nigeria, the textile industry that was a huge employer of labour and driver of the country economy closed down while over 4,000 workers in Kaduna alone were rendered jobless. And, besides the textile industry, the country biggest integrated steel company in West Africa, Ajaokuta Steel Company, seems not to be producing a bar of steel. A government committee put in place to proffer solution on how to revitalize the company recommended its scrap. They described it as a drain on the country’s resources.
Worse still, the Delta Steel Company has also been closed down while in 1998, it was discovered that 16 years after the company commenced operation, apart from the sum of N1.2 billion spent during its construction, Nigeria government has not given any dime to it in the form of any kind of support.
The Ghana experience is not holistically different, the country Steel industry is in the brinks of collapse. As far back as 2010, the country lost GH¢60,512,100 (about $29m) as a result of illegal exportation of ferrous scraps. And, this was as a result of the inability of the local steel companies to produce. Tema Steel Company, one of the biggest in the country, is no longer functional together with other sister companies, Tema Steel Company, Ferro Fabrik, Western Steel, Special Steel, and Sentuo Limited, facing a serious operational challenge. Apart from the Steel Companies, in the last 10 years, about 60 timber companies have folded up in the country, leading to the loss of over 30,000 jobs.
In 1991, Burkina Faso transferred 31 fabric companies to the private sector. This is even as the companies employed a large number of her citizens were creating sustainable income.
As West Africa and other African countries continue to aspire for development, they must make industrialization a core integral part of their development planning process. This is most fundamental because, without industrialization, no country can build an economy that will create jobs and end poverty. All nationals that have empowered their citizens, created jobs and reduced poverty, did that through the economy that grew out of practical strategies that put in place sustainable jobs and decent incomes in the hands of their citizens based on industrial growth.
Our model which focuses on the intensification of social safety net and palliatives by the government as a means of addressing poverty without making a real effort to pursue industrialization is not the way to go. We must build a sustainable income that is propelled by industrial development. And, we must do that within the democratic setting in which we operate. To achieve that, our politics must give consensus to development priorities that will transform the economy and the states through industrialization.
The main issue is not dreaming to be great nations, but, to put in place policies and models that will drive development and turn a large population of young people into assets. And, the only way to do that is through industrialization; hence conversation about industrialization must be an utmost priority in Africa development plan.
Audu Liberty Oseni