Why do Africans seem unable or unwilling to industrialise?

27 Jan, 2023 - 00:01 0 Views
Why do Africans seem unable  or unwilling to industrialise?

eBusiness Weekly

Clifford Shambare

By the end of Part Three, we seem to have reached a dead end in our discourse, with no sensible solution having been found.

On going on to scrutinise this matter further, we come to realise that such phenomena as industrialisation have taken a very long time to implement and to become established among a people in those countries where they have occurred. Such a state of affairs informs us that, in order to get to that stage, the phenomenon has to first become a culture with all its perceptions, attitudes, actions, values and all, ingrained in the populace.

As a simple example, let us visualise a condition where the black African child — like the Caucasian one today — has to be ‘born with a toolbox in his/her hand’ — so to speak.

With such a mindset, he/she has to believe in the power of the machine to change things for the better for him/her. And since this change has taken such a long time for the developed and emerging economies to achieve, it implies that in order for the black Africans — Zimbabweans included — to get to the same level, they have to speed up such a process considerably. But how? remains the question.

Rather interestingly but still vexingly, however, it is at this point that we find ourselves in some sort of catch twenty-two situation. This is a scenario in which some of us have advocated for economic sanctions in order to effect regime change in the country. Under such a scenario, it appears that the latter would want that change to come about first before considering such a phenomenon as industrialisation, if at all.

Still at that point — if ever it would be arrived at — it is moot if the latter will desire such an outcome. I say this because the current attitude among the latter seems to be that the Westerners should come in only to provide us with employment—also known in another term — as jobs.

Be that as it may, as elucidated above, collective attitudes and perceptions matter much in such matters as this is one of industrialisation. In this case we can ask a few pertinent questions. Here they are: Firstly, how does the leadership — both economic and political, on both sides of the political divide — regard the issues of economic progress, inclusivity, as well as the empowerment of the populace that they lead? Are they selfish and shortsighted or are they the opposite of these negative attributes?

What proportion of the populace understands what is involved in the process of industrialisation? What proportion appreciates the necessity of the process for their economic prosperity? If these proportions are limited — which is quite likely here—is there a need for creating awareness of same, among them? If so, how should this be done?

I take this position because I feel this approach is necessary here because of the reasons I have articulated in this discourse so far. These are reasons that have sprung from my experiences and observations in my informal research on this subject.

At this juncture, I feel it will help us to point out certain observations I have made so far concerning this issue. For example, many of us confuse industrialisation with manufacturing. While manufacturing is part of industrialisation, the later is broader in scope and much deeper in profile than the former. The implications here are profound.

While manufacturing can be done at the individual level without much ado on the part of the individual concerned, industrialisation requires a collective understanding that borders on being a culture, of what is involved and what it implies to, and among the populace.

Of concern here is the seeming confusion in the populace — both the leadership and its followers — between manufacturing and industrialisation. It is important to place a clear distinction between these two for reasons I shall explain here.

As I have explained before in one of my articles on this subject, one can buy a machine and proceed to use it to produce goods. No matter how crude the system, this is still a form of manufacturing. But then, there is a catch here. The manufacturer still remains very much dependent on the one who owns the system that produces the machine used here, who is in most, if not all cases, an industrialised economy themselves.

Such conditions have held in this country and elsewhere on the continent for quite some time now. So are we industrialised because of such a condition? Definitely not.

In order for an economy to be regarded as industrialised, there is a need for all the components; these being the primary, secondary and tertiary, to be available therein. Not only that; all of them have to be well coordinated.

A good example here is the case of motor car manufacturing in Africa. Concerning this case,  recently I stumbled on an article on Motoring  titled; ‘Five Car Brands made in Africa by Africans’ in the 30 December 2022 to 5 January 2023 issue of the Business Weekly.

At that very moment my mind was engulfed in mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was happy that, at least, the Africans are doing something about the matter of industrialisation; for motor car manufacturing is indeed, a strong component of that phenomenon.

On the other hand, my mind was filled with an uneasiness that culminated in the sudden occurrence of questions there in —  most of them still unanswered — regarding the matter.

At this juncture, let me reveal the fact that this matter is not new to me since I have written about it before in the article titled: Can the African Industrialise in this era?’ (21, Feb 2020) through this very paper.

In fact, this is a matter that I have addressed fairly extensively in my yet to be published book: “Africa’s Conundrum: Of Capital, Money and Economic Development”.

This is a book in which I am arguing that Africans are poor today, largely because of their failure to industrialise.

In the same book there is a chapter on invention and innovation work by the Africans in which I have discussed the challenges that have been encountered by the former to date. In that case it so happened that at that time my research and analysis covered all the motor car models as given below.

In the latest case in the Business Weekly, my interest in the matter was aroused further, by this particular article, whereupon I began to carefully read the brief notes written about each motor car ‘brand’, or model as it were.

In the first picture — that is not placed in that position in terms of any quality attribute — is the Innoson, a motor vehicle first manufactured and released by Innocent Chukwuma, a Nigerian tycoon, from a plant that he established in Nnewi, Nigeria in the state of Anambra, in 2007.

In the next picture, in the same article, is the Kiira made in Uganda in 2011 by the Kiira Motor Corporation. Then the Kantanka Automobile developed by Kwadwo Sarfo Kantanka, a Ghanaian engineer in 1994.

Then the Mobius by Mobius Motors Ltd of Kenya in 2010. And lastly, the Wallyscar made in Ben Arous in Tunisia; (2017).

Sadly, in this article, there is not much information on these vehicles’ backgrounds. However, in terms of their age, the Kantanka is the oldest at 28 years old. Then the Innoson at 15 years old, then the Mobius 12 years old, then the Kiira at 11 years old and lastly, the Wallyscar at 5 years old.

In terms of sales volumes, Wallyscar is the only model for which the sales figures are available. Its manufacturers are said to sell 600 units per year to Qatar, Panama, France, Spain and Morocco.

With regard to the marketing and distribution of these models, Wallyscar presents us with an interesting scenario. First of all, we are informed this company exports 600 units to five countries per year. This works out at 120 units per country per annum. So here we can easily see that this is not a mass but(an almost) special order production system.

This implies a price well beyond what the masses can afford. This effectively means that such a vehicle is outside the reach of most Africans. It is therefore, not surprising that the Wallyscar’s export destination includes only one African country — Morocco. Compare this case with the Volkswagen (The people’s car)’s price when it was first made.

Curiously, only one of these motor car models, the Mobius, is described as ‘a low cost vehicle purpose made vehicle for Africa’. As can be expected, this is a case that presents us with a number of questions. Here are some of the main ones:

If Africans have been making motor car models for this long, (The oldest one, the Kantanka has been around for a cool 28 years) why are they not visible in a country like Zimbabwe today? Is it because of economic sanctions or is it because of some other reasons?

If the later is the case; what are those reasons? And of course, the next question is; are these vehicles also to be found in other African countries today?

At this juncture it becomes easier to appreciate some negative attributes that seem to have been locked in the African context(s) up to today. This is one of those cases that typically tend to reveal the way Africans deal with economic matters and related challenges.

The most obvious thing to note here is the apparent lethargy among the Africans in the  way they regard challenges and/or tackle challenges in general. The reasons for this lethargy can be related to a number of other equally negative attributes and/or conditions existing among them.

Here remember, ‘There is no hurry in Africa’ — a well known adage whose origin is not clear. While some commentators believe that it is a form of derogation of the Africans by the Westerners, others believe it is one way the Africans themselves, try to justify their ‘laziness’.

Overall, these negative attributes of the Africans often manifest themselves  through their state of relative backwardness on the economic developmental front. This is a state that is intertwined with their lack of capital and technology.

(To be continued).

Clifford Shambare is an economist who has qualifications in agriculture. He is a practising farmer and a business consultant and contacted at [email protected]


Why do Africans seem unable or unwilling to industrialise?

Why do Africans seem unable or unwilling to industrialise

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