In marking Africa Industrialisation Day in Japan on 20 November 2020, the Japan Industrial Corporation Agency (JICA), the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), the United Nations (UNDP) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) jointly hosted an online seminar “Africa’s Horizon from COVID-19: Business Opportunities to Build Back Better”. Participants included speakers from the public and private sectors across multiple disciplines from Africa and Japan.
Opening the seminar, H.E. Mr Estifanos Afeworki Haile, Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps (ADC) and Ambassador of the State of Eritrea, said there is a need to expand exports by fostering industrialisation through the transfer of capital, knowledge and technology. He highlighted that African countries’ prospects for harnessing natural resources, including oil, gas, alternate energy sources, minerals, agricultural and marine resources, remain high.
Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, the UNDP's Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa, stated that the pandemic has highlighted the heavy risks of delegating industrialisation to the lower rungs of policy priorities. “The good news is that we now have a framework in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. Each of these tariff lines is an opportunity in industrialisation.”
“At UNDP we approach development in Africa through a promise lens. This is at the heart of our renewed strategic offer for Africa. In this offer, we vote for six impact areas: natural resource governance; sustainable energy; women and youth empowerment and employment; structural economic transformation; climate change (its adaptation and mitigation); and peace and security. Digital transformation is an important foundational enabler in all of these areas and indeed in securing enhanced capacities as is the governance of things.”
Participants presented the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, but they were equally encouraged by opportunities that have arisen to boost investment opportunities for Japan towards realising industrialisation in Africa.
Ms. Providence Mavumbi, Director Industry and Agriculture, COMESA, said that "Africa has become a magnet for investment-driven by improved governance, better macro-economic policy, abundant human and natural resources, urbanisation and the rise of the middle-class, steady population growth, good economic performance, liaising foreign domestic investment and huge market potential.”
Mavumbi also mentioned the negative impact of the pandemic but balanced this with the major opportunities it has presented for industrialisation throughout the group economy of COMESA. An example of this is the region doubling its local production efforts, especially where Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) is concerned.
Ms. Hasimboahangy Andrianainarivelo, President of AEMAJA (Madagascar Japan Economic Association), said the loss of income and human resources in relation to Madagascar’s tourism, transport and agriculture sectors were significant due to the pandemic. However, AEMAJA remains focused on creating renewed interest for Japanese investment by:
- Promoting business environment improvement.
- Reinforcing the economic relationship between Japan and Madagascar.
- Maintaining a platform for promoting the exchanges.
Mr. Edem Adzegenu from Ghana-based AfroChampions highlighted the pre-existing lack of road and energy infrastructure that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “We need to build resilience for post-Covid-19 opportunities to drive recovery for African countries, and these opportunities present themselves in agriculture, food processing, logistics, and textile value chains.”
Despite the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the overall GDP of the African continent, there has been a renewed focus on collaboration and investment that could underpin industrialisation on a large scale.
Mr. Timothy Mugume, Country Manager for Jumia in Uganda, said as Africa’s largest e-commerce platform, Jumia connected SMEs on a large scale due to the pandemic. UNDP provided data, smartphones, and airtime, which helped facilitate Jumia’s reach into seven markets that connected more than 2,000 sellers online. “These efforts are ongoing and with government taking the lead and the social, entrepreneurial and economic support from UNDP, we will be able to scale to bigger markets.”
CEO of RxAll, Mr. Adebayo Alonge, said his medical supplies company that specifically focuses on enabling on demand access to quality pharmaceuticals by identifying falsified pharmaceuticals and removing them from the supply chain, would be looking toward their Japanese counterparts for investment in technology, transport and financing. “We would be looking to partner with companies that have the capability to provide us with sensors to process the data that is being scanned in our fieldwork, as well as working capital to enhance the end-user reach for deliveries of medicines ordered on our platform.”
For Japanese company TUMIQUI Japon, their focus on telecommunications and electricity has presented an opportunity to expand its business in Senegal. President of TUMIQUI Japon, Mr. Koichi Sato, said given the limited electrification of hospitals and clinics, their product, the TUMIQUI Smart Kit with its rechargeable lamp, folding solar panels and wi-fi router, presented many solutions. The parts for this product are being imported from Japan and then assembled, and repaired where needed, at a project site in Senegal, boosting skills transfer and employment.
Mr. Shuhei Noguchi, Global Business Development at TerraDrone Japan, said their products are used widely for work in the construction, mining, urban planning, and infrastructure development sectors, making the company the top drone producer in 2020. In the African context, he said TerraDrone sees itself fulfilling roles in all these sectors, as well as the collection and delivery of information and goods in relation to medicine and healthcare services.
The seminar’s two sessions, focused on Foresight on Investment, and Resilient Business Models in relation to Covid-19, both highlighting enabling factors that could encourage investment in Africa:
- Geographically, West Africa is largely an untapped market for investment, while North, South and East Africa remain lucrative regions for more investment.
- The continent has an agile, creative and innovative youth sector, with 40 percent of the population below the age of 15, and nearly 60 percent between 15 and 35 years old.
- The services industries, including media and technology, telecommunications and finance, remain the main focus for investment in Africa.
- Vocational training in areas of agriculture, maritime and shipping industries, innovation and digital economy, food processing, logistics, and the cotton and textile value chains.
- Japanese businesses can identify investment opportunities in Africa that cover areas from innovation creation for SMEs to product exports.
In closing, H.E. Mr. Rachad Bouhlal, Chair of Trade Investment and Ambassador of Morocco to Japan, remarked that Africa’s industrial emergence is sustainable, in spite of the pandemic. “African countries and Japan need to engage their private sectors to find innovative ways for new cooperative niches. The digital transformation we are witnessing today is a good example of such cooperation.”