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Calls for protectionism in the West should not scare Africa: UNECA (downtoearth)

Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Abdalla Hamdok, says there’s no need for Africa to panic as sentiments of protectionism and populism grow louder in Western Europe and America.

Speaking during a regional meeting on innovations in infrastructure development and sustainable industrialisation in Africa at the Africa Development Week which ends today in Dakar, Mr. Hamdok said the rise of populism and protectionism in America and some European capitals should not scare Africa but give the continent an opportunity to re-think and come up with policies that shape its own future in its own way.

“It is not all doom and gloom when you hear those protectionism sentiments,” he said. “We should use the opportunity to rethink and shape our own future, developing our markets, our value chains and all that. We should look at it as an opportunity to do that and move our continent ahead.”

Mr. Hamdok said Africa needs to work tirelessly on value addition and move away from the model of selling its rich natural resources which do not generate enough financing for the development of the continent.

“We really need to rethink this outdated model of relying on exports of our raw materials where we still have commercial activities going on in villages with no running water, no clinic and all that,” said Mr. Hamdok.

He said while designing infrastructure projects that could leverage industrial potential of African countries, it remained important to benefit for value chain maximisation, preferably regional value chains with ongoing efforts towards regional integration in Africa.

“We need to rethink our commodities and link the entire investment in the commodities sector to the development of the continent and be part of developing our nations and provide that much-needed financing for development.”

Mr. Hamdok said the high-level meeting should come up with concrete recommendations on how Africa should tackle the issues of innovation, industrialisation and infrastructure, especially financing mechanisms, including developing, strengthening and deepening financial markets.

Speaking at the same meeting, United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President, Fredrick Shava, said anyone who has spent significant time in Africa knows that the question of infrastructure, industrialization and innovation was not merely a technical issue.

“It is at the height of the continent’s development plan and if adequately prioritized and supported, can ensure that Africa’s potential is unleashed and that individuals and societies are able to progress and break free from the shackles of deprivation and lack,” said Mr. Shava.

He said the potential for Africa was limitless. “Nevertheless, our economies and societies are not creating the quantity or the quality of opportunities needed to meet the demands generated by our rapidly urbanizing cities, our youthful population and diverse ecosystems,” he said.

Senegal’s Industry and Mines Minister, Ngouille Ndiaye, said it was crucial for Africa to move with speed to address the challenges affecting its growth and creation of inclusive economies.

He said his country is currently implementing a number of policies in its quest to transform its economy.

This is the first of two meetings that will be held in preparation of a bigger high-level meeting in New York in May to discuss and find ways to address impediments to industrialization, infrastructure development and innovation in Africa. The second meeting will be held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in April.

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