Reviving Africa’s Manufacturing Sector and its Impact on Economic Prosperity – Lanre Olagunju

Africa’s share of world manufacturing output and contribution to global trade declined from 0.9% to 0.8% between 1980 and 2001. As at 2012, it was just about 1%. It is quite difficult not to relate this to the reality that 25 of the world’s poorest countries are in Africa.

It is also quite important to clearly state that in the last two decades, the bulk of manufacturing activities hails from South Africa which is predominantly responsible for 27.3% of sub-Saharan Africa’s total Manufacturing Value Added. Then come to think of it, it can be so depressing to bring to fore that there are actually 54 countries in Africa! This simply means that other countries in the continent are practically slumbering in terms of global manufacturing output. It’s clear that Africa and sub-Saharan Africa is the least industrialized continent, as there are no industrialized cities or places in the class of Mexico, Shanghai and Hong Kong in the entire continent.

The huge question is how do Africans or African leaders hope to achieve sustainable economic prosperity by constantly importing toothpicks, pencils, matches, candles and other items that ordinarily doesn’t require more than elementary science knowledge to produce?  How long will the African economy majorly rely on agricultural production and extraction of minerals, without adding any value, hence generating limited incomes for her largely rural and poverty stricken population? The best time to have diversified the African economy was some decades ago. Well, the next best time is now! African countries must diversify their economies from absolute  reliance on primary production and extraction of natural resources.

How far and how fast Africa will experience true development is greatly dependent on how soon she stops exporting raw materials like cocoa, wool, crude oil, groundnut, manganese gold and the rest in their basic raw form, without any tangible value added. Our world today is value driven. You don’t expect to only export raw materials in their very crude form and expect to attain economic prosperity. That is actually worse than wishful thinking! But unfortunately, that is where a couple of African countries are today. Relying on exporting raw materials alone makes African countries vulnerable to price movement in the global market, and that reduces the benefit of having abundance of natural resources. Some countries export raw materials and in return import few finished products that are mere constituent of the main raw material.

Going by the data released by the United States Department of Energy, Nigeria is presently the largest and second largest importer of United States kerosene and jet fuel respectively. If Africa’s top crude oil producer still imports over 80 percent of petroleum products due to negligence of duty, the inability of a great nation to own functional refineries, corruption and cluelessness on the part of previous and present leaders, then it is clear that the road to economic prosperity for the so called giant of Africa is far.

Can Nigeria keep exporting huge capital and expect tangible development? Report has it that about 70 percent of Nigeria’s private wealth is believed to be held outside of Nigeria. Economic experts are also concerned about Africa being a net exporter of capital in the last two decades, despite her inability to industrialize. Isn’t it amazing that despite the sad reality, Africans spend about $4 billion every year as salary to about 100,000 expatriates who work in Africa? Think about it!

If Africa will ever attain her full potentials in terms of industrialization, more attention must be paid first to improving skill acquisition, the educational system that focuses more on irrelevant courses in the university should be relegated. Many more youths need to be equipped with hands one skill. Aside from that, achieving industrialization requires a huge need for stable and accessible energy, quality transport infrastructure, higher level of productivity and also sufficient savings – which is needed to make large capital investments for the establishment of manufacturing enterprises. This is needed because industrialization today requires huge capital and a skilled intensive labour force.

Looking through the history of successful countries that have accumulated so much wealth and prosperity, it’s clear that it is almost impossible to grow as a country or continent without investing in the manufacturing sector. African leaders should be motivated by the fact that a prosperous manufacturing sector hastens the general development of the country, essentially as it concerns the development of the private sector which in every sense is the back bone of every economy.

Economic experts have identified the direct correlation between exportation levels and the economic success of a country.A thriving manufacturing sector will definitely create jobs by itself and that will in turn reduce the poverty and unemployment rate.

***Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist. He has a degree in hydrology from the University of Agriculture Abeokuta and a professional diploma in journalism from the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He's @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter