Guest Columnist: Issa Aremu

GUEST COLUMNIST BY ISSA AREMU

Last Monday was the Africa Industrialization Day declared by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). It provided an annual platform for Governments, businesses and organised labour linked to industrial development to examine ways and means to stimulate Africa industrialization process. Given the impact on national development, employment, climate and living standard of the citizens, industrialisation and industrial policies are too important to be left to governments and businesses alone.

Industrial global union organises 50 million manufacturing workers along the global value chains in 140 countries including Africa in over 650 trade unions. The global union has over a million members in Africa including six sectors in Nigeria, namely textile, petroleum and gas, automobile, mines and solid minerals, energy and chemical and allied products. Sustainable industrial policy is one of the five critical success goals of our global union. The global union has resolved to constructively engage with African governments, businesses, investors and employers as well as development institutions Central banks, BOI, UNIDO on all issues aimed at promoting industrialization and beneficiation in Africa.

Industry is a key driver of sustainable jobs and development for national economies and the foundation of good living standards. It does not matter whether it is first industrial revolution, (Industry 1.0), Second Industrial Revolution (2.0) Third Industrial Revolution (Industry 3.0) or the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), Africans must make what we wear (gold, rings and necklaces, clothes and textile), what we ride, (automobiles), the fuel in our cars (petroleum products) what we build with (iron and steel), soaps we bath with (chemicals and allied products) and generate energy we consume.

Africa must stop exporting raw cottons, crude oil, mineral resources, gold and diamond only to be importing finished goods from China, Europe and America. Either large small or medium scale enterprises, Africa must consume products it produces scale down or halt wholesale importation or smuggling as it is the case in Nigeria. United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has over the years shown that manufacturing industry in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) lags behind other developing regions of the world.

There are three leading economies in Africa namely Nigeria which is worth some $406 billion, Egypt $332.3 billion and South Africa $294.1billion. Nigeria only leads in quantity GDP not quality in terms of manufacturing value added. Indeed South Africa at 25% is the highest, followed by Egypt at 20% and Nigeria with less than 5%. Ghana is even more industrialized at 6% manufacturing value added (MVA). In 2015 Africa had a population of 1.2 billion. Millions of youths join the labour market annually without jobs making them voluntary slaves to Europe and America after three hundreds their forefathers gallantly fought against forced slavery by human predators in Europe and America. The cause of serial deaths on the Mediterranean Sea is wholesale de-industrialization of Africa.

Only industry can provide sustainable jobs and living wages and necessary revenues for government to provide the needed infrastructure for development. For Africa to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2030, especially SDG 9 dealing with industry and innovation Africa the continent must innovate and industrialise. Africa must copy China’s industrialization drive which has within 20 years moved over 250 million people out of poverty through manufacturing and industrialisation.

Africa must make what it consumes; otherwise the rest of the world will consume it. Many African countries have commendably put in place robust documents and policies on industrialization and diversification, but capacity utilisation is still very low with few existing industries closing down with mass job losses. It’s time South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, and Ghana! Zimbabwe, Sudan walked/worked the policies and added value to the continent’s abundant raw materials. I acknowledge and commend the Federal Government of Nigeria for launching the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). Together with the existing National Industrial Revolution Plan, the Plan can promote revival of industries and creation of mass decent jobs. But it must be within an overall vision for development not just feverish “diversification Plan’ on the heel of defending collapse of crude oil prices.

A number of commendable initiatives by African governments in promoting wealth generation and reviving the industry include Buy-Africa campaign in South Africa and Buy Made-in-Nigeria campaign. Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo has signed three unprecedented Executive Orders mandating government agencies to spend more of their budgets on locally produced goods and services. These orders would help in the recovery of many factories in Nigeria, if pressures for smuggling and imports do not undermine them. There are also some commendable sub-national initiatives such as the industrial parks of Ethiopia and Nigeria’s Edo state under Governor Godwin Obaseki. There certainly cannot be industrialisation without electrification.

Nigeria must stop any action plan that will further give scarce public monies to non-performing privatised electricity distribution companies (Discos) in Nigeria. African governments must massively invest in energy mix of hydro, solar and nuclear to drive industrialisation. It is remarkable that ERGP sets the target of reducing petroleum products imports in Nigeria by 80 per cent in 2018. That’s the way to create jobs, decent and sustainable jobs in the petroleum sector. With smart manufacturing or the so-called fourth industrial revolution, Africa has all the options to further add value to raw materials in place of extractions. But there must be Just Transition such that Digitalisation and Industry 4.0 is sensitive to the much-needed social justice for workers affected by the new technology in production.

The benefits of industrialisation should not be privatised while the costs are socialised. Whatever forms of Industrialisation, (First or fourth industrial revolution) there must be decent sustainable jobs for the workers with job security, living wages and living pensions. Yes, technology makes work easier, but they also could lead to job losses. For they’re to be JUST transition to 4th Industrial revolution, there should be education and re-training for the workers. Employers and governments should not criminalize skill gabs as a result of digitalisations of production. On the contrary, the Fourth Industrial Revolution calls for the need to develop skills and know-how by workers to work with digital technologies.

•Comrade Aremu, mni, is the Vice President of Industrial GLO Union