Cold start for industrial revolution.

Author:Versi, Anver

The recent UNIDO Conference on Industrial Partnerships and Investment in Africa was expected to kick start Africa's industrial revolution However, lack of interest from donors and international organisations meant that little of any consequence could emerge.

The UNIDO Conference on Industrial Partnerships and Investment in Africa (CIPIA) which was held in Dakar, Senegal, late in October was expected to be the major turning point in Africa's bid for industrialisation. However, despite an impressive turn our, over 500 delegates, the theme never got beyond the luke-warm stage.

Perhaps delegates, which included a few African Ministers of trade and industry, were not quite clear what the aim of the conference was really about. There were the usual well sounding, well meaning speeches; there were some entertaining broadsides against the West's lack of commitment towards Africa; oft-quoted figures were trotted out to emphasise Africa as an attractive investment destination but there was no vigour in the discussions.

Conspicuous by absence

I had gone to the conference expecting a revolutionary fervour, declarations that would seize the imagination and kick-start Africa's second fight for independence - the industrialisation of the continent. I had expected, and no doubt the organisers had done so as well, that Western and Asian organisations, companies and individuals would arrive in full force and hammer out concrete industrialisation policies with their counterparts from Africa. As it turned out, major organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF, donor nations and large multinationals were conspicuous by their absence.

No African country had taken the trouble to put up displays about its investment potential, and investment bureau officials were difficult to locate. Neither had industrialists bothered to display their wares or their expertise. The only exception, as far as I could make out, was a small but vigorous group of Indian industrialists and the Export-Import Bank of India which was very ably represented by its man in Africa, Pankaj Joshi.

If you looked hard, you did find several people, ranging from Ministers and secretaries of state to bankers and industrialists who had come to do business. Indeed business was concluded with agreements on some 70 projects (see box) but given the scale of the conference, this was a disappointing number.

What was lacking was an overarching strategy for African industrialisation. True, there were several...

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