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Industrialisation a political project

ZIMBABWE a week ago hosted an Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (Ice) meeting, not widely reported in the media, in Victoria Falls to discuss how to accelerate industrialisation in the region through beneficiation and value-addition.

Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya

Ice is an organ of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) which holds annual meetings to discuss key issues on economic and social development in the sub-region to come up with measures to address them.

The recent meeting came against a background of last year’s Sadc summit also held in Victoria Falls under the theme “Sadc Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Value Addition and Beneficiation.”

Zimbabwe is also soon expected to hold another meeting on industrialisation in Harare. This will be in keeping with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 which seeks to create a paradigm shift and new impetus on development.

While these efforts must be commended as steps in the right direction, attempts to address development of industry on an extensive scale in countries like Zimbabwe will always fail unless underlying critical issues are tackled first.

Consensus is emerging Africa must now do things very differently to take advantage of its abundant natural and human resources. The continent must learn from the past, build on the progress underway and strategically exploit opportunities available to ensure positive socio-economic transformation.

This implies a number of issues which must be confronted first.
Industrialisation is as much an economic as it is a political project which requires leadership and political will. It needs good policy choices, innovation and creativity.

Development economists say the main difference between poor and rich countries lies in their politics, economic institutions and policies, as well as leadership. Everything else matters less.

That’s why some countries with abundant natural resources like Zimbabwe are poor, while others without such as Singapore are rich.
ECA Southern Africa regional director Said Adejumobi brilliantly articulated it when he said: “Industrialisation is a political project with an economic strategy.

“It is about making correct policy choices, creating the necessary institutions and incentives and summoning the political will to do things in the most unconventional ways.”

Adejumobi says “unorthodox thinking” is needed to pave Africa’s path to the future, which means embracing a vision where social change and economic development are technology-driven.

And herein lies another critical point. Zimbabwe has been going in the opposite direction. It has been focusing on agrarian reforms, while de-industrialising the economy. Even though land reform was necessary, despite serious downside risks, production has plunged and the economy driven into a tailspin amid widespread company closures and job losses — de-industrialisation on a massive scale.

Africa’s economic resurgence and transition from a continent of low-income into middle-income economies requires an overhaul of the base and superstructure to move away from predominantly agrarian and extractive activities to infrastructure development-led, technology-driven and value-adding industrialisation.

Industrialisation, with carefully carved strong backward and forward linkages to domestic economies, can help African countries like Zimbabwe to achieve high growth rates, diversify their economies and reduce their exposure to external shocks. This could substantially contribute to poverty eradication through employment and wealth creation.

But what must Zimbabwe specifically do to get it right?
Well, indigenisation — which is materially different from empowerment — is the opposite of what must be done.

Zimbabwe must change its negative politics, embrace inclusive economic institutions and implement progressive policies as well as incentives, while abandoning extractive regimes and methods.

The rule of law, property rights and human rights must be upheld as part of deliberate efforts to create a friendly business environment to attract direct foreign investment to fuel recovery. The current political regime is simply unable or unwilling to do this.

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