Thursday, December 14, 2017

Should Sub-Saharan Africa Prioritize Industrialization?

Project Syndicate published on 14 December 2017 a commentary titled "Africa's Must Do Decade" by Li Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Li Yong makes a valid point that South Africa is the only industrialized country in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is the least industrialized region in the world. He argues that Africa must industrialize, and it must do so in a socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable manner.

But is all of Sub-Saharan Africa ready to embark on industrialization, especially if it comes at the expense of prioritizing the improvement and reform of agriculture? There may be a few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where it makes sense to emphasize putting scarce resources into industrialization rather than agriculture. But relatively high wages compared to countries like Bangladesh, inadequate infrastructure, being landlocked, inadequate electricity, and a lack of persons already skilled in manufacturing are huge challenges in most Sub-Saharan African countries. Does it not make more sense to devote scarce resources in most Sub-Saharan African countries to the improvement of agriculture over the next decade? In some cases, changes in government agricultural and land policies would improve the situation.

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