Unlocking Africa’s Manufacturing Potential

As many as 85 million jobs in the manufacturing sector will be leaving China owing to increasing wage pressures. With improving infrastructure and lowering trade barriers across Africa, manufacturing costs have been falling and its potential is being recognized the world over. What role can the Diaspora play in this transformation to become an African Manufacturing powerhouse?

Africa is now home to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies, according to the International Monetary Fund, and many African countries are reducing their dependence on extractive industries such as oil, metals and precious stones.

Africa is now well positioned to industrialize with favorable demography, urbanization, an emerging middle class and strong service sector. But for this to happen it will need to scale-up investments in infrastructure and its people so that they have the right skills and know-how to capitalize on this opportunity.

To address this challenging topic, Joseph Amankrah from Ryerson University’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering spoke to the monthly Africa Expert Forum Toronto Breakfast which took place November 24 2016 at the Verity Club on the topic of Africa’s Manufacturing

Mr Amankrah spoke of the challenges facing many African nations whose extractive resources have been exploited while agriculture, food processing, and manufacturing have received comparatively little political attention or investment. “How is it possible in this day and age, on a continent where so many are food insecure, crops are allowed to rot the fields because there is no capacity to process foodstuff, whereas in other regions there is starvation coupled with exorbitant food prices? The world is coming to invest in Africa. We in the Diaspora have a key role to play to encourage African-led initiatives, especially in Africa’s manufacturing sector,  to ensure the benefits of development are shared by all.”

Joseph Amankrah pointed-out another reason to pay more attention the manufacturing sector,  Africa’s youth which today accounts for 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 makes it the youngest population in the world. The current trend indicates that this figure will double by 2045 according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report prepared by experts from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the industrialized countries’ Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others.

Yet despite this enormous resource, unemployment is a stark reality for far too many. Shocking many of these are remarkably well educated having graduated from a burgeoning number of post-secondary institutions. All too often, however, their institutions are producing “paper engineers” without the practical know-how to problem-solve real word challenges and think outside the box, Mr. Amankrah observed. “In fact what we have in Africa is not an unemployment problem, but an unemployable problem, said one of the meeting attendees.

In days gone by, the common response to such challenges has been to import expatriate worker workers. But today this is no longer politically feasible in most African countries. There is an urgent need, therefore, to re-invest in industry-driven training and vocation programs that can bring under-employed workers up-to-speed with modern manufacturing processes and design. Skills are key to drive Africa’s manufacturing revolution, but so too is electricity.

Powering this development is key, particularly given the perilous state of Africa’s Electrical generation capacity. While many countries are rightly looking at renewables such as solar and wind energy, both these technologies have distinct limitations considering the enormous need for reliable power on a 24/7 – 365 basis. Too few countries have looked at bio-gaz solutions which can benefit from the enormous amount of waste being produced in urban areas and is currently being dumped in environmentally unsustainable ways. Yet this waste which pollutes land, rivers and oceans can be used to fuel Africa’s transformation. A “Win-Win”, if there ever was one! The key is pilot projects to demonstrate and prove what can be done as a handful of  start-ups such as Biogas Solutions Uganda are doing

Joseph Amankrah also briefly spoke about the work of Camara Skills Training Network which is a federally registered charitable non-profit organization, focused primarily to the introduction of the industrial vocational trades (TVET) to at risk youth male and female from the high priority inner city communities in the greater Toronto area of Ontario. Camara fosters interactive participation by utilizing facilitative teaching methods that include the use of models of engineering components, theory and practical demonstrations. As the Chair of the organization, Mr Amankrah is receiving a growing number of requests from African institutions looking to introduce innovative approaches to vocational skills training in the manufacturing, industrial design and construction sectors. An example of this is an upcoming support-mission to Mogadishu Somalia, where Camara’s expertise will be used to help Zamzam Foundation establish a technical training institute. As the organization relies on volunteer expertise, he welcomed participation from members of the diaspora to give of their time and energy in responding this growing demand to support Africa’s Manufacturing transformation across the continent.

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