Zimbabwean and African Union chief technical advisor in the department of Trade and Industry Rongai Chizema says Africa cannot continue to experience natural resource exploitation when it has potential to use its resource endowment to industrialise and end poverty. NewsDay (ND) senior Parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa met Chizema (RC) on the sidelines of an African Union Department of Trade and Industry media awareness session to popularise Africa’s industrialisation agenda. The following are the excerpts of an interview on issues of Africa’s industrialisation.
ND: Who is Rongai Chizema and how did you end up leading the African Union industrialisation programme?
RC: I am a Zimbabwean son of the soil, born in the Midlands, educated and groomed in-country. I am a development economist, with both graduate and post-graduate training in the subject. Over the last 25 years, I have developed a career rich in diversity, spanning across the public sector (Ministry of Finance, Zimbabwe and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe), quasi – public sector (Zimbabwe Investment Authority and ZimTrade), private sector (Intermarket Holdings (now Finhold)) and non-government sector (parliamentary strengthening (Zimbabwe and Sadc) and economic governance). Leadership responsibilities have been delivered in investment, and trade development and promotion in Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa (Sadc, Comesa, EAC, and presently at continental level – the African Union Commission, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).
Leading the industrialisation agenda for Africa is not by coincidence, but was a result of a joint competitive recruitment by the United Nations Industrial Development (Unido) based in Vienna, Austria and Africa Union Commission. I joined the Africa Union Department of Trade and Industry in May 2018 and my brief covered setting up an institutional resource in the department responsible for coordinating the implementation of industrialisation frameworks in Africa — the implementation and co-ordination unit. I am also the chief technical advisor to the department, covering Africa’s industrialisation programmes. On this continental mandate, I have effectively leveraged my multi-skilled and results-oriented professional capacity built over the years through broad exposure in industry and trade consultancy, civil society and banking to influence change in the development economics field.
ND: What is the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA)?
RC: The Accelerated Industrial Development for Africa (AIDA) is a pan-African programme developed by UNIDO in collaboration with the Africa Union Commission and private sector, and adopted by the Summit of Heads of State and Government in January 2008. The landmark summit was held under the theme: The industrialisation of Africa, in recognition of the significance attached to industrialisation of the continent by our leaders. AIDA is a landmark initiative in the continent’s quest for self-reliance in line with the narrative of our liberation leaders’ vision cast during the first phase of Africa’s independence during the 1950s to strengthen the post-colonial State-building agenda.
The framework focuses on driving the integration of industrialisation in national development policies, especially in poverty alleviation strategies, development and implementation of an industrial policy with priority accorded to maximising the use of local productive capacities and inputs. It emphasises value addition and local processing of the natural resources of each country, to boost export incomes and reduce vulnerability associated with export of raw products. The strategy also seeks to strengthen capital and financial markets (including innovative financial intermediaries) as well as improvement of business finance, especially for small-scale and rural industries. Thus, AIDA seeks to reverse the commodity-driven feature of Africa’s economy, a threat to long-term sustainable development, moreso given that agriculture is subject to diminishing returns due to the binding constraints of land, while exploitation of non-renewable natural resources is limited by available reserves.
ND: How different or similar is the AIDA programme to Africa’s Agenda 2063?
RC: Agenda 2063 and AIDA are different subjects, and the former is the African continent’s 50-year vision, while the latter is a vehicle towards realisation of the vision. Agenda 2063 sets in motion the African society to work collectively towards building a prosperous and united continent, based on shared values and a common destiny. It seeks to deliver the Africa We Want. To deliver on Agenda 2063, industrialisation plays a key role through the exploitation of the rich and diverse natural resource endowment of the continent, so as to pull the continent from poverty, and chart a sustainable and inclusive development path, in the medium-to-long-term. AIDA has that responsibility, as a guiding framework. One of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 is that every African should enjoy rising income by at least 30% with an inclusive and sustainable industrialisation as the lynchpin to achieving this continental goal.
ND: What can you say has been the missing link in Africa’s industrialisation agenda?
RC: It has been the disconnection between the rich and diverse natural resource base and the development path for the continent – it is quite a fallacy, if not an irony. Some want to call it a resource curse. For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest deposits of cobalt and coltan — all key resources in smartphone technology, yet they have nothing to show for that, why? Nigeria has a high ranking on the OPEC oil body, yet it imports petrol and diesel, Angola the same problem. Meanwhile, Niger has the largest deposits of uranium, which could power electricity, yet they have no electricity. All uranium is shipped to Europe to secure their energy needs.
The list of countries being continuously exploited is very long for me to exhaust it under this space, yet that’s what we should deal with to deliver Africa from being hostage to poverty and underdevelopment.
ND: So, who is to blame for this exploitation of Africa?
RC: I blame this on a number of factors, but let me dwell on the most important game-changing factor. At independence African States, including Zimbabwe, sought to build industrial capacities, but did not change the production system, mainly extractive, hinged on commodities, extracted and bundled back to the colonial masters in the West. In return they received high value manufactures, international tastes with this pattern accounting for huge balance of payments losses. This, no doubt has perpetuated the under-development scenario inherited upon independence. Thus, the basic infrastructure (road, rail, ports etc.), and commercial sectors (banks, among others.) — developed by the colonial regime simply sought to facilitate this skewed development pathway for the continent. This extraction of commodities has not changed, 50 years on in most countries, Zimbabwe included, given its convenience. This has created a dual economy – characterised by one small, very organised sector constituting 10-20% in most African economies, running side by side with an 80% under-developed economy — largely agrarian and informal, hosting the majority of the population in less rewarding production portfolios.
The late President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe sought to reverse this by going full throttle on land reform (albeit in a haphazard and controversial manner), but met the Western world rebuttal and international isolation, and little support from his African political peers. Even the recent declaration of October 16th as the Sadc Day to support Zimbabwe’s sanctions problem, is viewed with scepticism by some African political leaders, yet it is one of the boldest steps taken by a regional bloc since Africa’s independence to assert its interests as a unified political group/organ. His mission was to provide his populace their birth right — restoring land as their birth right asset, to address the social and economic injustices of the colonial area.
ND: So, what must be done to end this underdevelopment of Africa?
RC: Thus, the biggest challenge, for us development practitioners of today has been to change this political economy of industrialisation in African debate and reshape the agenda towards leveraging our rich resources to deliver a sustainable and inclusive industrialisation pathway for the continent. The dual economy subsists in Anglophone, Lusophone and Francophone countries in present day independent Africa. Ethiopia has a very interesting industrialisation development pathway, having been the single country on the continent that has not gone through the political economy of colonialism and its effect on industrialisation.
Francophone countries are even in a worse off post-colonial bondage scenario. Their entire monetary policy and hence financial system is still in the hands of France, and they annually fork out collectively $500 billion in colonial debt. You can imagine if that money was deployed towards developing infrastructure for the continent and strengthening capacity of small and medium enterprises on the continent to participate in regional and continental production value chains, we could achieve a lot in our quest to industrialise Africa. This gross perpetual exploitation of Africa was recently revealed by 30 journalists we brought to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, late September 2019, as part of the department’s efforts to build the capacity of the media to drive a progressive and transformative narrative on the African industrialisation story line. Also, if we could stem illicit financial flows that bleed Africa of $55 billion annually, we can certainly fund our industrialisation programmes in Africa without much strain.