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Unions intensify campaign for African industrialization

15 October, 2019More than 200 union leaders re-affirmed their determination to campaign for the industrialization of the continent at IndustriALL Global Union’s Africa Industrialization Conference on 9 October in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The event was supported by International Labour Organization (ILO) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

IndustriALL’s ongoing campaign for African industrialization is part of its strategic goal of promoting sustainable industrial policy: no country or region has achieved prosperity and a decent standard of living for its citizens without a robust industrial sector. 

Africa’s low level of industrialization is linked to its colonial past. After independence, attempts were made to industrialize the economy, but IMF structural adjustment programmes and trade liberalization undermined newly independent African economies, letting market forces “kick away the ladder”.

The result is that the continent is still as a source of raw materials, and value is added elsewhere. According to some reports, on average, African industry generates US $700 of GDP per capita, which is less than a third of that measure in Latin America and a fifth of that in East Asia.

African economies are resource dependent. It is home to the top five oil producing countries with around 10 per cent of the world’s oil output, while 40 per cent of its gold and between 80 and 90 percent of chromium and platinum are from the continent.

The participants stressed the importance of industrialization as a transformation away from an agricultural- or resource-based economy to an economy based on manufacturing, which will increase incomes and living standards.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“This is a rich continent that has been systematically plundered. Africa needs a human-centred economy that brings democracy to economic life.

“Some of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. But growth is not the same as development.”

Assistant general secretary Atle Høie spoke about the importance of understanding trade agreements, and the danger of unaccountable investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms.

Affiliates discussed the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and committed to implementing IndustriALL’s action plan on trade, which calls on governments to respect ILO conventions and ensure labour rights are included in trade agreements.

Industrialization requires financing. The Mbeki report shows that Africa loses $52 billion per year through illicit financial flows, which needs to be addressed.

The role of industrialization is articulated in the African Union’s action plan, AIDA, and the United Nations’ Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa. Debates took place on routes to industrialization that consider climate change, industry 4.0 and the future of work. Unions agreed that focusing on national strategies will not work, and that regional industrial hubs, infrastructure, skills development and internal trade were essential. The conference agreed on campaign strategies for industrialization.

Unions will act on Africa Industrialization Day on November 20, lobbying global and African intergovernmental agencies. IndustriALL will conduct programmes on aspects of industrialization, such as sustainability, energy policy, supply chains, Industry 4.0 and trade.

“African industrialization is critically important to IndustriALL,” said Kemal Özkan.

“If we don’t break the trajectory of the continent, Africa will remain a place where people live in extreme poverty, which is completely unacceptable”.