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Africa's industrialization hinges on human capital

Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO of NEPAD, The New Partnership for Africa's Development.
Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO of NEPAD, The New Partnership for Africa's Development. Archives Nepad

African countries are becoming the fastest growing economies in the world, with East African nations leading the pack in 2015. But infrastructure still remains a challenge.


The United Nations and the African Union are pushing for the continent to industrialize, if it is to reach 1 of the 17 sustainable development goals. Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki is the Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, (NEPAD). He spoke with RFI's Christina Okello about his vision for Africa's future.

1) NEPAD places regional integration at the core of Africa's development, why is that?

If you consider the challenge posed by terrorism, regional integration is a good mechanism. Why? Because terrorist groups have regional strategies so you can't fight them with national strategies, you also need a regional strategy. And when you talk about regional strategy you mean cooperation - but that cooperation shouldn't be only security or military-based, it also has to be a cooperation which aims at regional development because most of the terrorists come from underprivileged areas. So reconstructing these territories in a regionally coordinated manner is a formidable solution in order to tackle terrorism.

2) Which regions demonstrate this integrated strategy?

East Africa is a very good example of a regional space where the political leadership is committed to integration and this allows for the circulation of persons and goods.

They've succeeded in having regional strategies in infrastructure, agriculture and health. For instance, they've harmonized their medicine registration systems so that they can produce generic drugs. What sets East Africa apart from other regions is its high level of investment in human capital and the fact it takes care of regional infrastructure and I think these two aspects are absolutely essential for any form of industrialization.

3) You argue that Africa has a lot of potential...

Indeed it has. I think we should bear in mind that our population will double in the next 40 years and we will have an explosion of consumers. Therefore, you will have a whole new market out there to exploit. How can you take advantage of it? By increasing your spending on infrastructure, human capital and allowing the private sector to be part of your public policy.

The private sector should not be an isolated actor, which the state dictates what to do. It shoud be a co-partner as Japan proved after the Second World War. Its reconstruction was fundamentally led by a strong partnership between the Japanese private and public sector. So they were sitting together around the same table and drawing up common strategies.

4) Can East Asia's industrial success be emulated in Africa?

I think it is a way forward. If you look at China and other south east Asian nations, they've given a lot of emphasis to special economic zones (SEZs), [export-oriented industrial clusters], which are linked to ports. It dates back to Deng Xiaoping, a Chinese revolutionary and statesman. His model was one country, two systems. He taught competitiveness, through the use of knowledge, innovation, technology, with easy implementation processes that were free of bureaucratic constraints, which allows you to build processing for exports. I believe this model can be replicated at the portuary zones that we have - from Dar es Salam, to Lagos, to Lomé, to Durban - it's not a difficult thing to do.

5) What's holding Africa back?

It's not a lack of funding. The money exists - the flow of funds into our continent exceeded $200 billion (175 billion euros) in 2014. The main hurdle stands in the way how projects are designed. To strenghthen their capacity, we need to buy the expertise to accelerate feasibility studies. To do that, you first need to identify your priorities: infrastructure is a priority, transport and energy evidently, because you reduce the costs, so if you reduce these costs, the cost of your manufacture product willl be more competitive. Secondly, you need to focus on human capital. Whatever you do, you always come back to the innovative capacity of well-trained young Africans who are the majority of the continent today.

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