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Where are the keys to Africa’s industrialization?

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What will it take to build a sustainable industrial base for Africa? Two Ministers, two professors, one economist, and an industrialist formed a panel on Wednesday, Day 3 of the AfDB 50th Annual Meetings in Abidjan, to brainstorm on the subject.

The panelists in the session titled “Road to Sustainable Industrialization: What it takes?” included Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister of Industry and Mining, Jean Claude Brou; and Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Claver Gatete; both ministers underscored the need to invest in sustainable energy resources as well as transport infrastructure.

“Every time I meet an investor with plans to work in Côte d’Ivoire, they always ask me, ‘Minister, do you have electricity for our factories?’ That’s the key question that we must answer,” Minister Brou said.

But Brou also observed that African governments including his don’t have the capacity to do it alone so they must move to create Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to mobilize resources to invest in energy projects as well as transport infrastructure.

Rwanda’s Minister of Finance agreed with his counterpart from Côte d’Ivoire, but added that African governments should concentrate more on paying attention to the needs of members of the private sector because they’re the ones that make things happen.

“The gap between governments and the private sector is the one delaying us. We should acknowledge that the private sector is our boss as governments and we must listen to them to chart the right policies for sustainable industrialization,” said Gatete.

Hellen Hai, CEO of the Made in Africa initiative, shared her experience of having started a shoe factory in Ethiopia which has grown to become one of Africa’s model stories and is spreading to more African countries such as Rwanda.

“The Chinese model will require that you jump on the tiger and decide how to ride it when you are already on its back,” she said, her message indirectly urging African governments to launch the campaign for industrialization.

Professor Justin Yifu Lin, from the Peking University School of Development, said there are several success stories of countries and regions that were once where Africa is today, but have since managed to grow into manufacturing power bases of the world.

“Countries like China or Taiwan and many others in the Asian region can be models that Africa can learn from to jump start its industrialization,” he said.

Professor Yifu also urged the continent to use any window of opportunity to set off its industrial campaign, noting that the opportunities are there and what’s needed is robust governance to put in place pragmatic policies to jumpstart industrialization.

The panelists also agreed that once started, Africa can sustain its efforts by investing in areas where countries have the most competitive advantage, to produce high quality and competitive products that can inspire international buyers’ confidence in African brands.

It was an engaging debate that took place on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, moderated by Trevor Ncube, Publisher of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper.

Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, also joined the debate and spent a few minutes praising Helen Hai, whose work on the continent, he said, is an important learning experience for countries.

Other speakers on the subject were Lemma Senbet, Executive Director of African Economic Consortium, and Hipplyte Fofack, Chief Economist of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).

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