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Fighting for African industrialization

25 November, 2021Countless strategies to industrialize Africa have been adopted; from the African Union’s Agenda 2063, Accelerated Industrial Development for Africa strategies and the African Mining Vision at continental level to national industrial policies. Yet the take-off is not happening, while the obstacles are well documented.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) met online on 19 November to grapple with the obstacles during an Africa Industrialization Day webinar under the theme “Trade union approaches and engagement on African industrialization and the promotion of manufacturing for job creation, decent work, and sustainable development”.

The unions have been carrying out this campaign for the last five years. The webinar, hosted jointly with ITUC-Africa, and attended by 70 participants, came after national workshops in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda where there were discussions on national industrial policies between unions and governments. The webinar discussed the role that trade unions can play to influence policymaking, implementation and monitoring of industrialization plans in SSA.

The unions called upon the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to prioritize the decent work agenda after unions pointed out that the agreement is silent on creating decent jobs, workers’ rights, social protection, and social dialogue. According to the unions, this exclusion can lead to the violation of international labour standards and national labour laws.

The AfCFTA agreement which began trading this year has been signed by 54 countries and has an estimated combined GDP of U$3 trillion with potential to increase intra-African trade by 50 per cent.

Peter Serwoono, senior advisor to the AfCFTA said stakeholders including unions will be invited to “participate in discussions at the national and regional levels on the development of AfCFTA implementation strategies.”

ITUC-Africa has already started working with the AfCFTA on the inclusion and is launching a guide titled Trade Unions and trade: A guide to the AfCFTA to help workers to understand the agreement.

Eric Manzi, ITUC-Africa deputy general secretary, said:

“Some of the lessons learn learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic that are useful to African industrialization strategies include adopting a multisectoral approach, effective policies for job creation growth, poverty reduction, strengthening economies and ending corruption. Further, technical training, public investments, education and training and building institutional capacities are key for sustainable industrialization.”

Vishwas Satgar, a climate expert from the University of the Witwatersrand emphasized the repurposing of industries and the creation of green jobs in the renewable energy sector in what he termed “climate emergency manufacturing” and “indigenous industrialization” models that included “socially-owned renewables.”
African industrialization is hampered by the economies that are mainly based on exporting raw materials that include minerals, oil and gas, and agricultural products. Manufacturing has remained subdued at less than 10 per cent of GDP. Additionally, industrial policies have been partly implemented while illicit financials flows are common.
Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said:

“Workers must have a say in industrial policies that will determine the future of their industries. We must challenge the narrative that Africa is poor; the continent is sufficiently rich in minerals and other resources, but the wealth is stolen through corruption. To counter this, we need structural change that enables sustainable industrialization that will address issues of mobility, energy decarbonisation, Just Transition, global supply chains and the future of work.”