Africa loves a good news story. This is why it is delightful to learn that Madagascar, which has had some road-bumps along the way in its few years, tops the list of African countries that have had the fastest annual growth in adding value to industry.
It is a World Bank data-generated list that has many of Africa’s premier growth stars: Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, and even Burundi. This growth might be from a low base, but that it is taking place at such robust rates is significant—a grouse for many of Africa’s policy makers has been that a reason the continent has struggled to narrow poverty rates faster is that it is still exporting raw materials and unprocessed minerals to factories around the world.
An Ethiopian farmer producing the prized Arabica strain earns just a dollar for a pound of green coffee; in the UK a pound of roasted coffee fetches $19. What if Ethiopia was able to add even more value to its beans by putting up a world-scale processing plant?
It is not pie in the sky: the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer,opened its first industrial-scale chocolate factory in May. The country already earns a fifth of the profits of the $13 billion the cocoa industry made.
Despite a changing global terrain, industry remains the growth path of choice for developing nations—it has a low entry level in terms of skills, is more productive than agriculture as currently practiced in Africa, and can move millions rapidly out of poverty.
It was the road taken by the West, and China has been more recently lauded for its turbo-charged growth on the back of such investment in industry and exports of finished goods. Few would blame Africa for not looking to re-invent the wheel and pick the low-hanging fruit first.
Next month the challenges the continent faces in raising the role of industry in its economy will be the focus of a key report next month by the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), helping build on recent vibrant pushes by the African Union and its partners to position manufacturing, on which it has lost global market share, on the continent’s agenda for growth.
In this respect the continent is set to be a better, nimbler and more responsible, industrial giant than those who have gone before it, while creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and financiers across board.