Workshop: Rethink industrialisation and the company in the continent’s development strategy

Encourage growth-producing, environment-friendly industrialisation at the service of humanity

Current reflections on the future of Africa and its place in the world focus on both the processes of marginalisation that result from current means of participation in the world economy, and the need to put an end to these processes. While this is a legitimate concern, we must first and most strongly insist on the endemic poverty of African populations and the urgency of providing a durable response. The main challenge consists, finally, in moving from a state in which Africa is seen by foreign powers and companies as simply a reservoir of natural resources to a state in which Africa is seen as a creator of added value thanks to sustained production on the part of the public and private sectors and various organisations on the continent. The industrialisation process provides an opportunity to make this economic leap from one state to the other.

In this enterprise, the continent must pay attention to new ideas about the public sector as an economic agent—an engine driving territorially-balanced and socially-inclusive growth—yet also remember the irreplaceable role of African private initiative in endogenous development. Africa must also pay close attention to the complementary role of the market and governance. Over the centuries the market has become the dominant force in modern societies, and it greatly influences other fields such as ethics, politics, society and culture. Scientific and technical progress have significantly accelerated this change, to the point that societies and instances in charge of the regulations required to “live together” and “live with our planet” are increasingly powerless to play their roles.

To have a place and a voice, Africa must invent or discover an industrialisation process supported by modes of governance that are appropriate and effective with regard to 21st century challenges. These new modes of governance will be judged by their compatibility with collective management of shared resources and goods serving the public interest and by how effective they are in regulating relations between man and his environment, satisfying immaterial needs, and encouraging the exchange of shareable goods inside the continent and with the rest of the planet.

Consequently, we must define a vision of African industry with shared rules—the design, control and respect of which will be a key part of governance on the local, national, continental and world-wide level.

Encourage a management and company culture suited to the realities and needs of Africa

There can be no economic development in general or industrial development in particular without the existence of an “entrepreneurial class” whose members are familiar with the most advanced managerial practices, who are capable of recognising opportunities, optimising the use of resources and talent, taking their place in the production of national riches and jockeying to a favourable position in the sea of international competitors. The performance of economic entities, be they public or private, is not the result of abstract, universally recognised management principles alone. Rather, their performance is largely dependent on efforts undertaken to develop and use the continent’s human resources.

So no matter what the status of the economic actor—public, private or cooperative entity—its management is not based simply on abstract international rules applicable to all situations, as the so-called ‘science of management’ might sometimes lead us to believe. Management of the special community of people involved in the same economic entity is not unlike the way in which the rest of society manages itself.

So what needs to be done, is to identify existing resources in this field in African education, from primary schools to universities, to determine whether or not, above and beyond the diversity of African societies, there can be an African model of management, and to define a strategy for developing the spirit of initiative and entrepreneurial fibre.

Redefine the rules of partnership with foreign companies

Foreign companies are ubiquitous in Africa. Their presence has sometimes boosted growth but it has never had any significant impact on development. On the contrary, following a sort of predatory logic, foreign companies have often taken over natural resources, despoiled African societies, exploited workers, and—in the end—made Africa poorer. They have been a major cause of the perversion of African economic dynamics, developing modus operandi that contribute to the de-structuring of African economies, erode the social foundations of growth, cause an outflow of currency and weaken the local private sector and the State.

At the very least, this overwhelming presence of foreign companies has not provided an opportunity for Africa to acquire more quickly the technological knowledge, know-how, capital and international trade networks that it so sorely lacks.

It is true that views on foreign companies’ role in development vary widely. International experience has shown that there is no blanket response to this issue. It all depends on how foreign companies and capital are used, and consequently on the vision and partnership rules that link them to Africa.

Among many examples of development, let’s consider the two most important in the world: China has developed at dizzying speed by exponentially increasing its exports with the initial support of partnerships with foreign companies. India, for its part, is developing more slowly but mainly with the support of Indian companies. Which of these two approaches is suitable for Africa? Is there a specifically African way? The question merits reflection.

In any case, Africa should not—and cannot—turn its back on cooperation with foreign companies. New rules must, however, be defined so that: foreign companies act in the common interest, the partnership provides balanced advantages to all concerned, and—above all—is consistent with the imperative to reinvent the African economy.