Africa has no choice but industrialise to add value to its natural resources to maximise export earnings from these, Industry and Commerce Minister Mike Bimha said last week.He told journalists at the 18th Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Heads of State and Government Summit that government and the private sector should work hand in hand to achieve this goal.
Minister Bimha said it was only through industrialisation that Africa can tackle extreme poverty on the continent.
At present, the continent largely exports its natural resources – mainly minerals – in raw form cheaply, and re-imports finished products made from these at high cost.
President Mugabe, who is also chairman of Sadc and the African Union, has consistently spoken against this trade trajectory of the continent, and pushed for industrialisation and value addition.
It is partly due to this that in 2013 the 19-member Comesa group recorded a $6 billion trade deficit, importing goods worth $41 billion against exports of $35 billion.
“For Africa to go forward we need to industrialise, there is no way we can continue to export raw materials. We cannot continue to rely on other people converting or adding value to what we produce and in turn sell the same to us at exorbitant prices. That time is way behind us,” Minister Bimha said.
“Trading among ourselves (in Comesa) is still low. Our productive sector is not competitive, we are producing the same products and we compete for (the same) markets. What we need to do is diversify, which relates to issues of value addition and beneficiation.”
At its summit, Comesa leaders agreed to come up with an industrialisation strategy.
“We cannot continue to rely on foreign direct investment, we have to look at innovative ways of raising funds on our own, utilising our own resources,” Minister Bimha said, adding African financial institutions as well as the Diaspora had a big role to play in driving the industrialisation agenda.
But he said for the industrialisation drive to succeed, Africa needed to urgently attend to its infrastructure deficit areas, including power, transport and communication.
Minister Bimha said the private sector should take the lead in investing in infrastructure, with governments largely playing a facilitative role.
“(The) private sector must be given (the) chance to participate in formulation of strategies, and leeway to implement them,” he said.
He said inclusion of small to medium- scale enterprises in the industrialisation strategy was imperative as the sector was now the driving force behind many African economies.
Meanwhile, Minister Bimha said the proposed launch of a tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA) by Comesa, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community in June was an ambitious continental integration dream.
The FTA seeks to promote free movement of both people and goods in the regions covered by the three groups.
At least 26 countries, with a combined population of 625 million and a gross domestic product of $1,3 trillion, will be part of the FTA. – New Ziana.