Tackling the challenges of industrialisation in Africa

In spite of the abundance of raw materials at its threshold, industrialisation in Africa, especially in Nigeria has been facing serious challenges with the continued unbridled importation of goods going on around the continent. To tackle the challenges, stakeholders are of the belief that total ban on importation of some goods would go a long way in bringing back the industries

Away from the stereotype that labour unions are mainly concerned with agitations, strikes and protests, the recently trilateral conference involving three major labour unions-the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ghana Trade Union Congress and South Africa Trade Union, gave a glimpse of their resourcefulness in addressing socio-economic issues pervading the African continent.

The conference, with the theme, “Working Class Solidarity for Poverty Eradication:

The Imperative of Re-Industrialisation and Decent Jobs in Africa”, was attended by offi cial delegations from Nigeria Labour Congress, Congress of South African Congress of Trade Unions, and Trade Union Congress of Ghana. Unions, as well as officials of Embassies and High Commissions of Ghana, South Africa and representative of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It examined the pervading economic policies in Africa and their crippling effects on industrilisation. Opening discussion at the three-day event which took place in Abuja, NLC President, Abdulwahed Omar, chastised African leaders for their failure in evolving virile policies that would attract value addition into abundance raw materials the continent is blessed with.

According to Omar, the wave of unbridled importation going on around the continent is responsible for the slow pace of industrilisation with all its concomitant effects on poverty and unemployment. He emphasised that if African continent must achieve its developmental agenda and eradicate poverty, it must add value to its abundance raw materials.

“Africa must add value to its huge raw mineral resources through industrilisation. Africa must produce what it consumes and consume what it produces. We must stop the present dumping of goods on the continent and produce our goods, create jobs for the unemployed,” the NLC boss said. To him, for the endemic poverty ravaging the continent to be addressed holistically, there must be integration of employment and social policies with macroeconomic policy strategies.

Omar further stated, “Making full employment and decent work a key macroeconomic objective alongside low infl ation and sound fiscal measures will be a major step towards bridging the gap between poverty and decent work. Promoting growth and empowering people, protecting economies and protecting people, must go hand in hand.”

In his address, the Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (Ghana), Comrade Kofi Asamoah expressed worry that under the various economic policies being pursued by the African leaders, the challenges confronting workers and the working class had deepened. Deploring the plight of the working people across the continent, he stated, “Joblessness, informality of employment, precarious employment and atypical forms of employment are on the rise. Inequality has deepened while social protection coverage has become a privilege. Ironically, these have occurred amidst remarkable economic growth and political development.

“A decent work becomes rare on the continent, workers resolve to organize is increasingly being undermined. In addition, the neo-liberal onslaught on the continent with its associated labour market deregulation has had a signifi cant toll on the trade union movement on the continent.”

Some of the policies which ruined the economies of most of the countries in Africa, according to the labour leader, include privatization of state owned enterprises, liberalization of trade, deregulation of all markets including the labour market and fi scal austerity. He alleged that these policies which were adopted wholesale by the successive African leaders were dictated by the World Bank and IMF in form of conditionalities bereaved of any sound economic reasoning.

Asamoah noted that since the workers are bounded by common challenges, the three unions, NLC, COSATU and TUC should strengthen their bond with a view to confronting neo-liberalism that tends to undermine their rights to decent work place and income.

In his own submission, NLC Deputy President, Comrade Isa Aremu, also admitted that the real challenge confronting the continent was the issue of industrilisation. He said that although most countries in Africa had attained independence, they have more or less gone back to the colonial era in which they just produce raw materials and send them to Europe to process for as fi nished goods.

For instance, he lamented that Nigeria with the largest market in Africa signed all trade treaties and protocols even when it had nothing to trade internationally. According to him, outright failure on the part of those who had governed the nation before and the sheer lack of foresight are the reason the country has continued to wallow under the weight of heavy importation with its disastrous consequences on employment.

“Nigeria with the largest population and the largest market is a signatory to some trade treaties. Unfortunately, the capacity to trade at an advantage position is hampered by its inability to process its abundant raw materials to fi nished good. The result of it is that today the country has been overrun by imported goods and that is why we are having this high level of unemployment in the country.

“A country that is so rich in raw materials, yet full of poor people because they don’t have jobs and there cannot be jobs if there are no industries and if you don’t have jobs, you cannot get out of poverty. And it has to do with industrial policy, we have to engage our government to have a policy that will say Africa must produce what it consumes and must consume what it produces,” he said.

In order to be out of the decade of de-industrilisation, Aremu advised African leaders to muster the needed political will to ban importation of some goods in which they had comparative advantage, as he urged African continent to emulate Europe and America if it was desirous of achieving its developmental agenda. According to him, both Europe and America would not open their borders to goods in which they had comparative advantage.

“We have African prints, why should will continue to patronise Chinese textile materials? The Chinese people don’t wear the prints, but they produce them and in the process they create jobs for their people, while depleting the economies of the countries in which the textile products are shipped to. In particular, the impact of this is very overwhelming for the Nigerian economy as it devalues our currency, even as we import unemployment and export jobs to them. The Chinese have taken millions out of poverty. We in Nigeria have not got to this level because we are not creating jobs, the jobs already created, they have been destroyed, factories have closed down, while many workers have lost sources of income and become destitute and in the absence of social security, people become poorer.”Aremu submitted.

He said the only way countries in Africa could meet their development goals and create the needed employment was to bring back the industries. According to him, if the Nigerian government could replicate the success of the backward integration policy in cement to other sector of the economy, the country would in no time be on the path to re-industrilisation.

When reminded that the policy has not in any way affected prices of cement, to him, it is preferable to pay high prices for made-in-Nigerian goods than paying high prices for imported goods. “It creates more jobs. We can debate about how to reduce prices, but at least now, there is backward integration, and we are now producing cement instead of bagging imported cement. Dangote has done very well to establish a lot of plants, even the biggest plant in Africa producing million tonnes of cements.”

Meanwhile, Emeka Wogu, Minister of Labour and Productivity reiterated efforts of the present administration in repositioning the Nigerian economy by coming up with policies geared towards creating enabling environment for the growth of the industrial sector.

According to him, “Re-industrilisation is engineered through various ongoing policies and reforms aimed at stimulating economic growth especially through government aid to revitalise and modernize aging industries and encourage growth of new ones. Private Public Partnership (PPP) is a tool in this regards.”

The minister noted that the just concluded privatization of the power sector would not only help to sustain industries, but also generate employment for the people.

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