Bankers, economists, ministers and entrepreneurs outnumbered tourists in Marrakech, Morocco for the annual meeting of the African Development Bank. It is a major economic event on a booming continent that has experienced six percent growth and has promising prospects.
However, behind the statistics lies another reality, as AfDB’s vice-president and chief economist, Mthuli Ncube, explained: “That growth has not been inclusive. It has left a lot of people behind. The quality of the growth needs to be improved. This is why, at our annual meeting, we are focusing on the whole issue of structural transformation. Which is a way to make sure our growth is inclusive, by transforming these economies to make sure that more people can benefit from it.”
The export of raw materials and unprocessed agricultural products are not the only mechanisms of growth in Africa, but they do remain the most powerful. Unfortunately that creates few jobs, and the billions it does generate rarely aids development on the continent.
The current challenge in Africa is to exploit resources to industrialise the continent so that it can produce its own value-added goods and create employment.
“There is no reason why Nigeria should import plastics from China, when we produce oil and we can have petrochemical industries, there’s no reason why we should import rice from Thailand, no reason why we should import tomato paste from China or Europe” said Lamido Sanusi, from the Nigeria Central Bank.
He added: “We must have a long term economic trajectory whose objective is to build self-sufficiency, to produce in Africa what can be produced in Africa and only import what we have to import.”
Togo’s Finance Minister, Adji Otéh Ayassor, described how his country is taking up the challenge: “We intend to use phosphate directly to turn it into fertilizer, we are in the phase of setting up processing plants. We will do the same in agriculture. Again we will have to mechanise and transform; that is our goal, in the short and medium term.”
That is expected to create sustainable local jobs. However, recruiters warn about a lack of qualified personnel.
Didier Acouetey, Executive President of Africa Search, explained: “We conducted a large study that was simply to identify the needs of businesses in the continent and the courses that were offered to fill these gaps. And in fact, we realised that needs were largely in technical trades, engineers, labourers, electricians. However there is not enough training in these fields in the continent.”
Rethinking training courses is an issue made more pressing by an explosion in the population. By 2050, nearly a quarter (21 percent) of the global workforce will be in Africa.
“With 1.2 billion people, there will be an additional one billion people being added to the African population in the next 50 years. Surely that’s an opportunity for the rest of the world to realise that Africa is a partner and they should begin to treat Africa as such,” said AfDB’s vice-president and chief economist, Mthuli Ncube.