Africa’s Must-Do Decade
by Li Yong-VIENNA – Since 2000, Africa has recorded impressive rates of economic growth, owing largely to development assistance and a prolonged commodity boom. While the continent shows great diversity in the socioeconomic trajectories, growth rates have generally masked an underlying lack of structural transformation.
Many African countries have yet to undergo the kind of transformation that is necessary for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable development over the long term: namely, industrialization. Wherever industrialization has occurred, it has reliably improved economic diversification and helped to nurture, strengthen, and uphold the conditions for competitive growth and development.
In recent decades, some developing countries – mainly in Asia – have managed to industrialize. But, despite repeated attempts, African countries have not. In 2014, the Asia and Pacific region’s share of value added in global manufacturing was 44.6%, whereas Africa’s was just 1.6%. With South Africa as its only industrialized country, Sub-Saharan Africa is the least industrialized region in the world.
For African countries to achieve sustainable development, they will have to increase substantially the share of industry – especially manufacturing – in their national investment, output, and trade. And, to their credit, most African countries already recognize that such a transformation is necessary to address a wide range of interconnected challenges that they are now confronting.
One such challenge is population growth. More than half of the continent’s 1.2 billion people are under the age of 19, and almost one in five are between the ages of 15 and 24. Each year, 12 million new workers join the labor force, and they will need the tools and skills to ensure their future livelihoods. Industrialization is the key to helping Africa’s fast-growing population realize a demographic dividend.
A related challenge is migration. Many of Africa’s most ambitious and entrepreneurially minded young people are joining others in migrating north. But no country, especially in Africa, can afford to lose so much talent and potential. Industrialization alone cannot resolve the migration crisis, but it can address one root cause, by creating jobs in the countries of origin.