Britain Must Invest in Africa’s Industrialization

Jairus Mmutle/GCIS
Business /30 Aug 2018

Britain Must Invest in Africa’s Industrialization

Africa, the last great frontier for industrialization, now finds itself in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This has arrived with exponential speed and provides our continent with the potential of leapfrogging the Western world in technological prowess and scalability.

Embracing the technologies which have liberated Africa from past infrastructural challenges will offer unbridled prospects for progression. Failing to do so will perpetuate a schism in our development and, as Prime Minister Theresa May stated during her visit to Cape Town, ensure a continued “…loss of faith in free markets and democracy as the best way to secure global growth, greater conflict and an increased susceptibility to extremism – challenges made global.”

These challenges are real – disconnection and disillusionment from conditions of extreme poverty can provoke crime and indoctrination by radical groups in certain regions of Africa, threats not only facing the continent in preserving security and territorial integrity, but ones made wildly exportable, as witnessed by trucks hurdling down the streets of London and Nice and armed assaults remaining a tragic constant in the United States.

I accordingly commend the Prime Minister’s proposed plans for the UK to become the G7’s biggest investor in Africa by 2022 and the mission of her 29-strong business delegation; however, what is critical is how the UK chooses to invest – if wisely, the benefits will serve to be mutual in not only safeguarding our citizenries, but in providing quality education and high-skill job creation through the fostering of a sustainable manufacturing renaissance in our continent for generations to come.

I agree with the Prime Minister May’s assessment that there can be no prosperity, economic growth and long-term investment without ensuring stability across Africa by bolstering states under threat. The proposed ‘fundamental shift’ in aid spending to focus on long-term economic and security challenges rather than short term poverty reduction is the right approach to building a sustainable future where Africans can thrive.

Traditionally, Africa has been a net consumer of the developed world’s technologies in the defence environment; rather than allowing this dependency to linger as longstanding importers, we have embraced the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including 3D printing, mobile supercomputing, predictive situational awareness, cost-effective interoperability and portable manufacturing, found across many of our land, sea and air technologies. These are proudly African-designed, purposefully enabling Africans to serve as innovators and exporters of world-beating technologies and bearing huge relevance to the United Kingdom and the developed world to-date.

The author, Ivor Ichikowitz, is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Paramount Group.

No doubt the Prime Minister’s remarks reach us in a period of extreme uncertainty; a juncture of seismically shifting allegiances and the reopening of a historical conflict between east and west. The Prime Minister’s trip is intriguingly but a week before the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. It is indeed necessary for the United Kingdom to step up and collaborate with Africa as we continue to work side by side with sovereign governments in Asia, the Middle East and around the world, in enhancing our partners’ and indeed our own technological and defence and security intelligence and capabilities, exploring the ‘art of the possible’ to check the challenges of today.

I take great pride in Paramount Group serving as a symbol of Africa’s contemporary technological stewardship and its future potential. Creating more opportunities for British businesses to invest and partner with African companies is essential to unlock the innovation and creativity of Africa’s younger generation. In this spirit, we are looking forward to strengthening our existing partnerships with various British companies and to kick start new opportunities for collaboration that will power sustainable industrialization on our continent. There are many compatible technologies that exist between African and British businesses which, through joint investment, can be applied not only in Africa but around the world for our mutual benefit.

The litmus test for the Prime Minister is whether the UK will succeed in mobilizing private sector investments and building true partnerships that are not about one party doing unto another but governments, businesses and individuals working together in a responsible way to achieve common goals.

President Ramaphosa has launched an ambitious campaign targeting international investors, marketing similarly essential investment opportunities to be found in our country, seeking to re-industrialize on a scale and pace that would draw millions of job seekers into the globalizing marketplace. Our nation’s private sector so too offers great receptiveness to partnering with the United Kingdom, who have year on year showcased a similar commitment through its overseas aid budget (£13.9 billion in 2017, an increase of £555 million from 2016). It is now how best we choose to do so, how we leverage the gifts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to tackle the hurdles in our pathway to prosperity head-on.

At the core of Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF), analysis on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, was the conviction that as long as we are able to collaborate across geographies, sectors and disciplines to grasp the opportunities this Revolution presents, our forward trajectory will be without limit. Any country that invests in a culture of innovation invests in socioeconomic development. If we invest together, we can create lasting change.

It has to be said, however, that if Britain’s new economic engagement with Africa is to resonate across this continent, it has to be seen by Africans as a genuine break with the past. Rightly or wrongly, Britain is still viewed through the lens of the colonial experience, with all the negative connotations of exploitation and extraction of wealth, leaving little of value behind to serve as a basis for Africa’s industrial development. This view might be outdated, and maybe demonstrably wrong depending on one’s choice of facts and figures, but it cannot be wished away nor ignored.

This has to change. The younger generation of Africans, particularly, will welcome it. The new phase in relations with Africa, announced by the Prime Minister, is to be welcomed, and hopefully the kinds of engagements I have outlined will serve to eliminate this decades-old narrative and help to create a new platform on which both Britain and Africa can build a better future.

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