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Turning challenges into opportunities: Africa’s industrial development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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When world leaders gathered in New York for the 70th session of the General Assembly in 2016, and proclaimed the period 2016-2025 as the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III), it reaffirmed the importance of industrialization in supporting Africa’s own efforts towards sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and accelerated development. Since the launch of this Decade, and the call for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), to develop, operationalize and lead the implementation of IDDA III together with our partners, the African Union Commission, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Economic Commission for Africa, much has evolved in the region.

The continent’s collective GDP is expected to stand at $2.6 trillion, and consumer spending estimated at $1.4 trillion in 2020, with 50 per cent of Africans living in cities by 2030. These figures show the astounding prospects for a continent that is the most youthful. Digital transformation is also growing – the World Bank has estimated that digital transformation will increase growth in Africa by nearly 2 percentage points per year and reduce poverty by nearly one percentage point in Sub-Saharan Africa. The potential of digital technologies for socio-economic development is being taken up and has led to many technology-based start-ups and tech hubs in Africa.[1] The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the largest free trade area in terms of participating countries, is expected to lead to greater exports, higher value-addition in manufacturing and services, and to bring about a more diversified intra-African trade opportunity for the continent with benefits spilling over to small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa.

Despite growth rates in Africa still not having reached the 7 per cent that would be required to pull the continent’s populations out of poverty, optimism for Africa has not diminished. Extreme poverty in Africa has started to decline, and it is anticipated that if the trend continues, the number of Africans living in extreme poverty will reduce by 45 million by 2030.

The rapid deployment of advanced technologies through the Fourth Industrial Revolution provides a window of opportunity to help transform the landscape of manufacturing in Africa.

At the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), we believe that it is crucial for Africa to be prepared to address its digitalization challenges and to seize the opportunities brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution in pursuing inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) to attain the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UNIDO Industrial Development Report 2020, a forthcoming flagshippublication on the Fourth Industrial Revolution,to be launched in November this year will show that advanced digital production technologies applied to manufacturing production offer huge potential to advance economic growth and human well-being whilst safeguarding the environment. This study taps into existing knowledge on the priorities for digitalization for Africa and highlights a two-pronged approach for manufacturing to remain a valid and feasible development path: one of which refers to the need for Africa to enhance readiness for the more digital future, whilst building industry capabilities, through improved access to broadband and developing technical skills and technology hubs.[2]

The limitation in basic infrastructure, including access to clean, reliable and affordable energy, human capacities and skills will need to be addressed.Autonomous systems in manufacturing are likely to bring about higher demand for human capital qualified in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Such growing demand polarizes the labour force by increasing the share of employment in high-wage jobs and decreasing the share of employment in middle-or-low wage jobs.[3] It can deprive Africa of job opportunities, where low-paid jobs are concentrated and human capital with strong digital skills is in shortage. Due to the lack of access to new technologies, knowledge, information, and infrastructure, the technology and skill gaps between Africa and developed countries could be widened with the rapid onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, potentially implicating local small and medium-sized enterprises that will also require more support in technological training and enterprise innovation to be competitive in the global market.

UNIDO will aim to support its Member States in Africa to transform into “more diversified knowledge-based economies” through cooperation in technology transfer, innovation, and infrastructure development.[4] We will further leverage on our ongoing Programme for Country Partnership (PCP) to mobilize resources for inclusive and sustainable industrial development. This includes supporting the development of necessary physical information and communications technology infrastructure, which is pivotal for the digitalization requirements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As we support the development of Africa’s industrial base, working in collaboration with our partners in the United Nations development system, such as FAO, ILO, ITC, UNCTAD andUNEP, we will continue to support the creation of green and decent jobs through initiatives such as the Green Job Programme. Drawing on our knowledge base and expertise in industrial development, there is scope to further explore the application of digital technology and mini-grids to support clean, reliable and affordable electricity access in Africa, which will not only serve electricity demand for households as well as for productive use.

We will also learn from our experiences in digital learning platforms to support human capital development. In Southern Africa, UNIDO and the Government of Finland have piloted programmes in virtual reality training, which are being replicated in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. By using mobile 3D teaching platforms, virtual reality is helping forestry students learn to operate chainsaws in a safe environment. In Liberia, UNIDO, with the support of the Government of Japan and in partnership with the Japanese company Komatsu, has deployed connected technology and innovation in its production facilities, which has enabled labour market-oriented training programmes in excavator operation and basic service training to be provided, particularly for youth and women.

As world leaders gather in New York again for the General Debate of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, alongside the historic SDG Summit, to take stock of where we are and what we need to do to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNIDO together with its key development partners, the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank, the AfroChampions Initiative, the African Export-Import Bank and the International Telecommunications Union will leverage its partnership to support innovation and infrastructure development in Africa.


[1] UNIDO (2017). Accelerating clean energy through Industry 4.0: manufacturing the next revolution. Nagasawa, T., Pillay, C., Beier, G., Fritzsche, K., Pougel, F., Takama, T., The, K., Bobashev, I. A report of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, Austria.

[2]Banga, Karishma, and Dirk Willem te Velde. 2018a. “Digitalisation and the Future of Manufacturing in Africa.” Overseas Development Institute and UKaid. https://technologyatwork.itcilo.org/digitalisation-and-the-future-of-manufacturing-in-africa/.

[3] IDDA III 4IR Concept Note, page 3

[4] IDDA III 4IR Concept Note, page 5


LI Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), has had an extensive career as a senior economic and financial policy-maker. As Vice-Minister of Finance of the People’s Republic of China and member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank for a decade, Mr. Li was involved in setting and harmonizing fiscal, monetary and industrial policies, and in supporting sound economic growth in China. He pushed forward financial sector reform, and prompted major financial institutions to establish corporate governance, deal with toxic assets and strengthen risk management. Mr. Li gave great importance to fiscal and financial measures in favor of agricultural development and SMEs, the cornerstones for creating economic opportunities, reducing poverty and promoting gender equality. He played a key role in China’s cooperation with multilateral development organizations, such as the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank.

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Mozambique Marks Five Years of Extreme Violence  in Cabo Delgado

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Mozambique marks five years since extreme violence erupted in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, forcing nearly 1 million people to flee during that time in October. Currently government officials, international organizations and experts said there have been “remarkable progress” as businesses have restarted and displaced people began returning to Cabo Delgado.

Extreme violence and displacement have had a devastating impact on the population. People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground. Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives.

Despite the relative calm in Cabo Delgado. some analysts still believe that all is not over. Analyst João Feijó thinks that armed violence in Cabo Delgado will continue, and that the authorities must be prepared to face “a marathon”, instead of “a race” that is soon over. “I think this conflict will be a marathon – it will not be the 1,500 meters race we thought it would be,” he told Lusa regarding the five years of conflict. The insurgent groups “play with time” and are prepared “to spend 10 or 20 years” terrorizing the region, “living in the bush, looting and stealing”.

“We don’t have that time,” he says, alluding to the country’s desire to get oil majors back to exploit natural gas, the need to put an end to a very expensive military intervention and the soldiers’ desire to return home.

Feijó believes that the government has realized that it will have to live with some degree of violence, something that could turn into a “low-intensity conflict” and the government itself has admitted that the problem of instability will last for several years, and we have to live with it,” he adds.

What is not known is whether this will be enough to restart the gas projects. The researcher says that the answer can only come from TotalEnergies, the oil major that had to abandon the works near Palma after the March 2021 attack, and which says it is still waiting for improved security.

The first attack took place in Mocímboa da Praia on October 5, 2017, in what was classifies as the first phase of the conflict. A second phase followed, with great pressure from rebel forces, which grew, established bases, occupied territory and led to the suspension of Mozambique’s gas projects, the largest private investment in Africa.

The military offensive by the allied forces reconquered the areas around gas-relevant sites like Palma and Mocímboa da Praia. The remaining rebels returned to the bush and restarted occasional attacks against relatively remote communities, only now expanding their area of action to include southern districts of Cabo Delgado and in Nampula province.

Reports monitored from the U.S. Department of State, Deutsche Welle and Rádio Moçambique have shown that the United States would be assisting with a further donation of US$40 million (€38.2 million) to support the displaced and victims of natural disasters in northern Mozambique.

The financial grants were part of the “emergency response to the food needs of those displaced by war and terrorism, social protection, building resilience to climate change and nutritional support for children” and the priority was to prevent “people in a situation of food insecurity in Mozambique.

The U.S. Government’s lead development agency, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has officially renewed its partnership, and ready to implement foreign assistance funding of US$1.5 billion to promote a more peaceful, prosperous, and healthy Mozambique.

Late January, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and French TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné witnessed the signing and exchange of fresh additional agreements that permit prompt resumption of natural gas project in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique. It aims at contributing to the country’s sustainable development and give access to energy to as many people as possible.

TotalEnergies said in a media release that the collaboration agreement illustrates commitment to deploying its multi-energy strategy in southern African country. The natural gas project was suspended in March 2021 after an armed attack that left the province devastated, about 3,100 deaths and more than 817,000 residents displaced. 

In a media briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has called for an end to the violence and on the international community to provide sustainable support to reduce the suffering of the displaced population and local host communities in northern Mozambique.

Tragically, conflict has not subsided, and thousands of families are still being forced to leave their homes because of attacks by non-state armed groups. Five years on, the humanitarian situation across Cabo Delgado has continued to deteriorate and displacement figures have increased by 20 per cent to 946,508 in the first half of this year. The conflict has now spilled into the neighbouring province of Nampula, which witnessed four attacks by armed groups in September affecting at least 47,000 people and displacing 12,000.

The organization has been continuously responding to the needs of displaced populations in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces with humanitarian assistance and protection support. We are providing shelter and household items, helping survivors of gender-based violence with legal, medical, and psycho-social support, and supporting displaced people to obtain legal documentation. UNHCR also supports people at higher risk, including children, people with disabilities, and older people.

The UNHCR is in favour of returns for displaced families when these are voluntary, safe, informed, dignified, and when the conditions are conducive, including once basic services are restored to ensure their sustainability.

The refugee organization considers security conditions to be too volatile in Cabo Delgado to facilitate or promote returns to the province. However, growing protection needs and limited services for those who have chosen to return home must still be urgently addressed by relevant stakeholders, including authorities and humanitarian actors.

It is working closely with the government and other partners to support and advocate for the inclusion of all displaced populations in national services. As of September 2022, the US$36.7 million needed for UNHCR to deliver life-saving protection services and assistance in Mozambique was only 60 per cent funded.

Cabo Delgado province, in northern Mozambique, is rich in natural gas, but has been terrorized since 2017 by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the Islamic State extremist group. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 784,000 persons have been internally displaced by the conflict, which has killed about 4,000, according to the ACLED conflict registry project.

The Joint Forces of the Southern African Development Community are keeping peace in northern Mozambique. African leaders at their summit of the African Union held in Addis Ababa highly praised Mozambique’s approach to fighting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, involving troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community Military Mission (SAMIM). Mozambique, with an approximate population of 30 million, is one of the 16-member Southern African Development Community. 

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Torture is ‘widespread’ and likely underestimated in DR Congo

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School children in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, take part in a parade ceremony of the 67th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, organized by the UN Joint Human Rights Office. (file) MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh

Torture is “widespread” and underestimated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the abuse involves armed groups and State forces, UN investigators said on Wednesday.In findings issued in a report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in DRC (UNJHRO) and the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), the authors indicated that 93 per cent of the 3,618 registered cases of “torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” affecting 4,946 victims had happened in areas experiencing conflict.

Of that total, covering the period between 1 April 2019 and 30 April 2022, there were 492 cases of sexual violence, affecting 761 victims.

Torture can never be justified, no matter the circumstances or the context. The DRC authorities must act with urgency and determination to put an end to this scourge,” said Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, in a statement.

Responsibility shared

Members of the DRC’s defence and security forces were responsible for 1,293 cases, according to the report, while 1,833 cases were attributed to armed groups. “In certain contexts, (they) subjected victims to torture in collusion with members of the security forces,” it said.

Victims suffered torture and ill-treatment either during detention or “while exercising their fundamental rights, such freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, or during detention”, the report’s authors continued.

Highlighting the low number of complaints filed against perpetrators and the “widespread nature of torture” compared with the “magnitude of the violations”, the report explained that only two army officers, 12 national police officers and 75 members of armed groups were convicted of torture during the reporting period.

‘Hate speech’ surging

The development comes amid concerns that the DRC has been gripped by a ‘proliferation’ of hate speech, just 12 months ahead of presidential elections.

In a scheduled debate at the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, also expressed deep concern about the alarming security situation in the east of the country, where two provinces have been placed under military rule since May 2021.

Withdrawing UN peacekeepers MONUSCO from the country “could have serious consequences on the human rights situation in the east of the country and the sub-region”, said Christian Jorge Salazar Volkmann, Director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at OHCHR.

Member States at the Geneva forum heard that although armed groups carried out most rights violations and abuses between 1 June 2021 and 31 May 2022, DRC security personnel were responsible for over four in 10 cases, out of an overall total of 6,782.

The military rule in Ituri and Nord Kivu provinces which came into effect on 6 May 2021 “do(es) not appear to have deterred armed groups from attacking civilians, particularly in internally displaced persons sites”, said Mr. Volkmann.

Some 2,413 people – 1,778 men, 471 women and 164 children – had been killed by armed groups in the first year of military rule in the two provinces, he said, compared to 1,581 people (1,076 men, 365 women and 140 children) during the previous 12-month period.

Nearly 5.5 million people had been forced from their homes by the violence, amid a resurgence of the M23 armed group in Nord Kivu’s Rutshuru province, which has attacked DRC “defence and security forces, civilians and (UN peacekeeping Mission) MONUSCO”, the OHCHR official added.

Militia rule

Other attacks by militias the ADF and CODECO against civilians and humanitarians “may constitute serious crimes under international law”, Mr. Volkmann said, in an appeal for an end to the violence and a nationally-led demobilization and reintegration plan. 

While welcoming the life sentence handed down to Mihonya Chance Kolokolo, leader of militia group Raïa Mutomboki, for crimes against humanity and war crimes including the recruitment and use of children, rape, murder and the violation of natural reserves in South Kivu, the UN human rights official highlighted the “slow pace” of justice for “almost all” priority cases committed by Kamuina Nsapu armed group between 2016 and 2018 in the Kasai region.

To tackle hate speech, OHCHR has recommended practical measures to the authorities in the DRC.

These include implementing a proposed law on racism, tribalism and xenophobia which is under discussion in Parliament.

“One year before the next presidential elections, it is important that the alleged perpetrators of these messages be brought to justice and held accountable, and to prevent the security situation from further deterioration,” said Mr. Volkmann.

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Five years of violence in northern Mozambique has forced nearly a million to flee

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Nearly one million people have fled extreme violence perpetrated by non-State armed groups in northern Mozambique over the past five years, the UN refugee agency UNHCR reported on Tuesday. As the conflict in Cabo Delgado province has not subsided, UNHCR is appealing for both an end to the bloodshed and greater international support for the displaced and local communities hosting them. 

The situation has had a devastating impact on the population, Spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh told journalists in Geneva. 

Beheadings, rapes and burnings 

“People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground,” he said

“Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives.” 

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate, with displacement figures increasing by 20 per cent, to over 946,000 in the first half of this year. 

Neighbouring province affected 

The violence has now spilled into the neighbouring province of Nampula, where four attacks were reported in September affecting at least 47,000 people and displacing 12,000. 

“People displaced during those latest attacks told UNHCR that they are scared and hungry. They lack medicine and are living in crowded conditions – with four to five families sharing one house,” said Mr. Saltmarsh.  

“Some sleep under open skies. Lack of privacy and exposure to cold at night and the elements during the day, create additional safety and health concerns, particularly for women and children.” 

Meeting the needs

UNHCR has been responding to the needs of displaced populations in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, through humanitarian assistance and protection support. 

Staff are providing shelter and household items, helping survivors of gender-based violence with legal, medical, and psycho-social support, and supporting displaced people to obtain legal documentation. UNHCR also supports those at higher risk, including children, people with disabilities, and older persons. 

The agency requires $36.7 million to deliver life-saving protection services and assistance in Mozambique but has so far received around 60 per cent of the funding. 

Promoting safe returns

Despite ongoing displacement in Cabo Delgado, some people have returned to their homes in areas they perceive as safe, said Mr. Saltmarsh.

Last month, UNHCR and partners conducted the first protection assessment mission to Palma, a town in the far north-east which saw deadly attacks in March 2021. Most of the 70,000 residents were displaced and the majority have returned in recent weeks.

“People who have lost everything are returning to areas where services and humanitarian assistance are largely unavailable. UNHCR is concerned about the risks people face should they continue to return to their areas of origin before conditions are stabilized,” said Mr. Saltmarsh.  

Danger remains 

While UNHCR is in favour of returns when they are voluntary, safe, informed and dignified, current security conditions in Cabo Delgado are too volatile for people to go back to the province. 

“However, growing protection needs and limited services for those who have chosen to return home must still be urgently addressed by relevant stakeholders, including authorities and humanitarian actors,” he said. 

In the interim, UNHCR is working closely with the Mozambican government and other partners to support and advocate for the inclusion of all displaced populations in national services.  

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