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Africa’s sustainable industrialization in the digital era in the context of COVID-19

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has presented its Industrial Development Report (IDR) 2020: Industrializing in the digital age at a side event of the UN Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development. The event provided the opportunity to discuss and reflect on the challenges and opportunities the COVID-19 pandemic presents for African countries in adopting advanced digital technologies, and in charting the future course of industrialization.

Opening the event, LI Yong, UNIDO Director General, asserted that the world economy is facing enormous pressure, and that nearly all industrial sectors are affected. He also stressed, however, that “despite the challenges, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also presents new opportunities and has accelerated the uptake of digital technologies across diverse sectors”.

In his presentation, Nobuya Haraguchi, Chief of UNIDO’s Research and Industrial Policy Advice Division, pointed out that the emergence and diffusion of advanced digital production (ADP) technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is radically altering manufacturing production, increasingly blurring the boundaries between physical and digital production systems. Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing and data analytics generate significant opportunities to accelerate innovation and increase the value-added content of production in manufacturing industries.

Ahmed Kamaly, Egypt’s Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Development, added that under the right conditions, the adoption of ADP technologies can promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. He said, “Similar to other countries, we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic accelerate the uptake of digital solutions in Egypt. He continued, “Egypt has put in place the adequate industrial policy measures and enablers to accelerate its digitalization agenda in line with Egypt Vision 2030.”

Internet connectivity and access to stable and affordable electricity are among the preconditions for African countries to industrialize in the digital age. Célestin Monga of Harvard University emphasized that “policymakers of African countries should promote the strategic selection of competitive industries based on their comparative advantages, such as in labour-intensive and export-oriented light industries, to achieve inclusive and sustainable industrial development,” and asked, “How did Asian countries advance their manufacturing between the 1950s and 90s? This is a highly relevant experience for African countries.”

There is widespread concern that ADP technologies could trigger a process of backshoring from labour-intensive economies. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will open up new opportunities for regional trade and economic integration once it has been fully implemented.

Professor Kunal Sen, Director of the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU WIDER, said, “The pandemic has affected the tourism sector and international trade. Our views are that manufacturing development in Africa is still largely driven by the domestic market and small enterprises, therefore, the impact of the pandemic on African manufacturing remains to be seen.,

Phyllis Wakiaga, CEO of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, shared her observations on sub-Saharan Africa’s digitalization process, claiming that only a handful of firms are fully adopting ADP technologies. The weak digital infrastructure and capabilities pose the biggest challenge for Africa’s industrialization in the digital era. During these currently extraordinary times, African countries must not only focus on economic recovery in a post-pandemic world, but must also build a resilient and sustainable industrial sector for the future.

Alejandro Lavopa, Research and Industrial Policy Officer at UNIDO, concluded that the preconditions and comparative advantages of African countries will continue to play a key role in shaping Africa’s industrialization process in the digital age as well as in the context of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. “The importance of aligning efforts to achieve a resilient industrial development will be at the core of the next flagship report of UNIDO, the Industrial Development Report 2022, which will focus on the impact of the pandemic on the future of industrialization.”

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Africa Today

Partnership with Private Sector is Key in Closing Rwanda’s Infrastructure Gap

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The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has pushed the Rwandan economy into recession in 2020 for the first time since 1994, according to the World Bank’s latest Rwanda Economic Update.

The 17th edition of the Rwanda Economic Update: The Role of the Private Sector in Closing the Infrastructure Gap, says that the economy shrank by 3.7 percent in 2020, as measures implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus and ease pressures on health systems brought economic activity to a near standstill in many sectors. Although the economy is set to recover in 2021, the report notes the growth is projected to remain below the pre-pandemic average through 2023.

Declining economic activity has also reduced the government’s ability to collect revenue amid increased fiscal needs, worsening the fiscal situation. Public debt reached 71 percent of GDP in 2020, and is projected to peak at 84 percent of GDP in 2023. Against this backdrop, the report underlines the importance of the government’s commitment to implement a fiscal consolidation plan once the crisis abates to reduce the country’s vulnerability to external shocks and liquidity pressures.

“Narrowing fiscal space calls for a progressive shift in Rwanda’s development model away from the public sector towards a predominantly private sector driven model, while also stepping up efforts to improve  the efficiency of public investment,” said Calvin Djiofack, World Bank’s Senior Economist for Rwanda.

According to the Update, private sector financing, either through public-private partnerships or pure private investment, will be essential for Rwanda to continue investing in critical infrastructure needed to achieve its development goals. The analysis underscores the need to capitalize further on Rwanda’s foreign direct investment (FDI) regulatory framework, considered one of the best in the continent, to attract and retain more FDI; to foster domestic private capital mobilization through risk sharing facilities that would absorb a percentage of the losses on loans made to private projects; and to avoid unsolicited proposals  of public–private partnership (PPP) initiatives; as well as to build a robust, multisector PPP project pipeline, targeting sectors with clearly identified service needs such as transport, water and sanitation, waste management, irrigation, and housing.

While the report findings establish clearly the gains of public infrastructure development for the country as whole, it also stressed that these gains tend to benefit urban and richer households most.

 “Rwanda will need to rebalance its investment strategy from prioritizing large strategic capital-intensive projects toward projects critical for broad-based social returns to boost the potential of public infrastructure to reduce inequality and poverty,” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “Any step toward the Malabo Declaration to allocate 10 percent of future infrastructure investment to agriculture, allied activities, and rural infrastructure, will go a long way to achieving this goal.

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Greenpeace Africa responds to the cancellation of oil blocks in Salonga National Park

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© Kim S. Gjerstad

On Monday the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to remove Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The decision follows clarification “provided by the national authorities that the oil concessions overlapping with the property are nul[l] and void and that these blocks will be excluded from future auctioning.”

Oil blocks overlapping with Salonga were awarded by President Joseph Kabila in the twilight of his regime. Greenpeace Africa has repeatedly demanded their cancellation, while local leaders voiced their opposition to the project in light of its impacts on communities. 

“A decision by President Felix Tshisekedi to cancel all oil blocks in Salonga Park must be followed by a decision to cancel oil blocks in Virunga Park and across the Cuvette Centrale region. These are vast areas rich in biodiversity that provide clean water, food security and medicine to local communities and which render environmental services to humanity,” says Irene Wabiwa Betoko, International Project Leader for the Congo Basin forest. 

The Salonga National Park, which is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984. The park plays a fundamental role in climate regulation and the sequestration of carbon. The park is also home to numerous endemic endangered species such as the pygmy chimpanzee (or bonobo), the forest elephant, the African slender-snouted crocodile and the Congo peacock. Salonga had been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1999, due to pressures such as poaching, deforestation and poor management. The government of DRC later on issued oil drilling licences that encroached on the protected area, posing a threat to the wildlife-rich site.

“DRC’s auctioning of oil blocks has not only been scandalously lacking transparency and menacing for particularly sensitive environmental areas – they neither benefit Congolese people nor the planet. Instead of privileging a small group of beneficiaries of the toxic fossil fuels industry, diversifying the DRC’s economy should be done through renewable energy investments that will make energy accessible and affordable for all,” Irene Wabiwa concluded.

Greenpeace Africa urges full transparency from both UNESCO and the DRC government and calls for the publication of all supportive documents regarding the decision to cancel the aforementioned oil blocks, as well as the map of the nine oil blocks that are still being auctioned in the Cuvette Centrale region.

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Africa Today

Domestic violence, forced marriage, have risen in Sudan

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photo: UNDP/Ahmed Alsamani

Deteriorating economic conditions since 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have fuelled an increase in domestic violence and forced marriage in Sudan, a UN-backed study has revealed. 

Voices from Sudan 2020, published this week, is the first-ever nationwide qualitative assessment of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country, where a transitional government is now in its second year. 

Addressing the issue is a critical priority, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government’s Combating Violence against Women Unit (CVAW), co-authors of the report. 

“The current context of increased openness by the Government of Sudan, and dynamism by civil society, opens opportunities for significant gains in advancing women’s safety and rights,” they said

Physical violence at home 

The report aims to complement existing methods of gathering data and analysis by ensuring that the views, experiences and priorities of women and girls, are understood and addressed. 

Researchers found that communities perceive domestic and sexual violence as the most common GBV issues. 

Key concerns include physical violence in the home, committed by husbands against wives, and by brothers against sisters, as well as movement restrictions which women and girls have been subjected to. 

Another concern is sexual violence, especially against women working in informal jobs, but also refugee and displaced women when moving outside camps, people with disabilities, and children in Qur’anic schools.  

Pressure to comply 

Forced marriage is also “prominent”, according to the report. Most of these unions are arranged between members of the same tribe, or relatives, without the girl’s consent or knowledge. 

Meanwhile, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains widespread in Sudan, with varying differences based on geographic location and tribal affiliation.  Although knowledge about the illegality and harmfulness of the practice has reached community level, child marriage and FGM are not perceived as key concerns. 

Women’s access to resources is also severely restricted.  Men control financial resources, and boys are favoured for access to opportunities, especially education. Verbal and psychological pressure to comply with existing gender norms and roles is widespread, leading in some cases to suicide.  

The deteriorating economic situation since 2020, and COVID-19, have increased violence, especially domestic violence and forced marriage, the report said. Harassment in queues for essential supplies such as bread and fuel has also been reported.  

Data dramatically lacking 

Sudan continues to move along a path to democracy following the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir who had been in power for 30 years.  

Openly discussing GBV “has not been possible for the last three decades”, according to the report.   

“GBV data is dramatically lacking, with no nation-wide assessment done for the past 30 years, and a general lack of availability of qualitative and quantitative data,” the authors said. 

To carry out the assessment, some 215 focus group discussions were held with communities: 21 with GBV experts, as well as a review of existing studies and assessments. 

Research was conducted between August and November 2020, encompassing 60 locations and camps, and the data was scanned through a software for qualitative analysis, followed a model first used in Syria. 

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