Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Transformation in Africa

By Professor David Wield

Reporting from the L2C Learning to Compete conference, 'Industrial Development and Policy in Africa' in Helsinki

Many African economies have been growing quickly in the last decade and are far from the ‘basket cases’ portrayed in many media and, sadly, research reports. The countries I know best, Tanzania and Mozambique, have more than doubled their economic activity in the last ten years – the differences are very tangible in trade and investment data.

But industrial development has been uneven and quite chaotic. Sometimes being on the edge of chaos is good – entrepreneurs can take advantage of opportunities to build new ventures – but chaos can be hard for industrial development, and stability is important for those who take risks.

Innogen is involved in a wide range of research on industry in Africa with a number of African colleague institutions, like the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and REPOA (Research for Policy Development, Tanzania). There is a joint workshop just this week in Dar es Salaam, for example, on local pharmaceutical manufacture. And, Dr Geoff Banda (Innogen OU) has just finished his PhD, which shows how weak financial capabilities are holding back investment in local Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drug therapies.

So, it’s good to be here at the UNU WIDE event. There are papers from more than 20 developing countries, and I’m trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can. It’s been ten years since I finished my last book on follower firms in developing countries and how they can catch-up with global leaders – I’m in catch-up mode myself!

Benno Ndulu, Governor of the Bank of Tanzania, gave the opening plenary underlining the massive changes since the mid-1990s. As he put it, ‘the pessimism has turned into a renaissance’ and he talked of ‘Africa being the next frontier for driving the global economy’. He’s always been an optimist since he was student in Dar es Salaam (where I was a young lecturer at the time), but even he was surprised at the rapid transformation.

Let’s hope Innogen can play a small part in the transformation.

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