The African industrial revolution has been spoken about for decades as a possibility. With various models mooted over time, it has been treated as one of such pipe dream issues — from a global perspective. The advent of COVID-19, however, has presented Africa with a clear cut opportunity to rise to the occasion and build strong foundations for a self-sufficient and industrialized future.
The African industrial revolution begins
Our entire world is angry with China, and for a good reason. In more ways than one, every nation is reeling from the effects of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease that originated from Wuhan, China. For this reason, some countries decided to revamp their local industries to stop heavy reliance on doing business with the Chinese.
With the big boy countries struggling to cope with the pandemic, it became a matter of survival and innovation for small countries like Ghana and other African nations. Who would have thought that crudely made ventilators could do the job? And the solar-powered infrared sensor fitted handwashing machines.
All these innovative possibilities were brought to the fore as a result of how desperate the times we live in are. And even after the medical desperation has passed, Africa cannot go back to life as usual — being at the receiving end of industrialisation.
No better time than now
For some observers, the fear is that Africa may not be able to execute this plan properly. While those are genuine concerns, most are somewhat panic-driven. Looking at the technological times, we’re living in; one can confidently say we know what would be beneficial to us. Africa doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel or go in for failed models from the developed countries.
At this point, our focus should be on providing modernised solutions to African problems. Many of us have developed a taste for Western cultural (or lifestyle) trappings. While it may take time to wean us off such preferences, it isn’t a lost cause, which is why it would be the government’s responsibility to take up civic education and reorientation in that regard.
The African industrial revolution would only be our reality when we are first consumers of our products, thereby cutting down on imports and eventually supplying other countries — both in Africa and beyond — through exports.
Imitate the good and great only
At the 2019 edition of the Ghana Tech Summit, Tyrona Heath — Global Lead at LinkedIn’s B2B Institute — spoke about the need for entrepreneurs not to get caught up in the temptation to pioneer the next breakout technology while there are existing ways to get things done effectively.
As noted previously, Africa doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be significant in the global industrial space. Take a look at the country in the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic, China, for example. In our part of the world, China became synonymous with low-grade knockoffs.
What we didn’t realize at the time was the Chinese could manufacture to the specifications of American and European standards — and through that, became producers of better quality products — because they were masters of imitation.
African entrepreneurs in the clothing and accessories (shoes) department have already shown we don’t need to work on knockoffs. A good number of such brands — from Ghana to South Africa — are thriving; and these are clear signs that they are accepted within their communities.
These are all on a small scale. However, they are excellent feasibility test subjects for an African industrial revolution.
We’re at a point where everyone is looking for alternatives to China. Africa stands to benefit the most from industrialisation. With most of the world’s natural resources, we stand to have better bargaining power with an African industrial revolution. The Western and Asian economic powerhouses are aware of this and are already securing pieces of Africa for themselves.
But while many Africans have a vague idea, at least, about the need to develop industries, are we bold enough to demand action from our leaders? That’s a question whose answer remains to be seen in what we allow our politicians to campaign on or boast of comfortably as achievements.