African countries need to diversify their economies by replicating East Asia’s aggressive focus on manufactured exports rather than remain trapped in their colonially defined role as producers and exporters of raw agricultural or mineral products used in industrial production in Europe, America and other continents.
This was one of the central ideas recommended by economic experts during the recent Adebayo Adedeji Memorial Lecture, an annual event set up to honour the late Adebayo Adedeji, a Nigerian economist and longest serving executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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Rob Davies, erstwhile South African minister of trade & industry and chief speaker at the event themed “Towards a Developmental Approach to the AfCFTA”, noted that the global race for a vaccine highlights the perils of African countries being consumers and not producers of medical supplies.
Recounting an instance of Africa’s disadvantaged position in the manufacturing sector, he divulged that the mineral used in the manufacture of the iPhone 6, mined from the rich coltan seams of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is sold to Chinese manufacturers for a paltry $1.06, a sum just 0.16 per cent of the cost of the finished product, which markets for $649 in the US.
Davies warned that as the value of raw materials decline, the revenues to African countries are dwindling as well, making unprocessed goods an unsustainable means for generating future wealth in the continent.
He suggested that the actualisation of Africa’s industrial strength must involve three mutually interdependent dimensions: the integration of the physical, social and institutional infrastructure; the integration of production structures; and the integration of the African markets.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), he said, is a golden opportunity for economies on the continent to transform their supply chains and reverse the economic degeneration caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
The AfCFTA’s real prize, according to him, will be creating regional value chains that produce higher value goods and services that imprint their own ‘Made in Africa’ brand which if properly structured is expected to elevate the continent’s manufacturing sector.
“In order to unleash the potential of zero-tariff trade, African countries need to be given the same policy space as other early industrialists, and not pressured into accepting unfair trade rules,” he said.
The Adebayo Adedeji Lecture Series is in recognition of the remarkable achievements and contributions of Adebayo Adedeji to the work of ECA and Africa’s development process.
During his lifetime, Adedeji was a renowned pan-Africanist and visionary leader, who devoted his life and professional career to the service of the continent and played a key role in the formation of regional economic communities including; Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).