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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

Humanitarian catastrophe in northern Mozambique ‘beyond epic proportions’

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A displaced woman in northern Mozambique receives food aid. © WFP/Grant Lee Neuenburg

The UN and partners are “following with deep concern” new reports of violations against civilians in northern Mozambique, the UN Spokesperson said on Thursday. 

Citing reports of atrocities carried out by child soldiers, alleged beheadings during attacks by non-State armed groups, and clashes in the Cabo Delgado region, Stéphane Dujarric told journalists at the regular daily briefing that although verifying information was extremely difficult, “we are concerned about the situation of civilians who fled the violence and those who remain in Palma”. 

The coastal town just south of the border with Tanzania, was reportedly overrun by militant extremists on 24 March, but three days ago, Mozambique’s military reported that it had regained control. 

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), attacks in and around Palma uprooted many who had been sheltering there after having fled conflict in other parts of the province. 

Prior to that, nearly 670,000 – including some 160,000 women and adolescent girls as well as 19,000 pregnant women – were internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula provinces, the vast majority of them reliant on host families, whose scarce resources are being exhausted.  

On the ground 

The UN spokesperson said that nearly 12,800 people, 43 per cent of whom are children, have arrived in the districts of Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba since violence erupted.  

“Many more are expected to still be on the move in search of safety and assistance”, he added. 

Humanitarian partners in Mozambique are assisting displaced people at arrival points and scaling up the ongoing humanitarian response in Cabo Delgado. 

“So far in 2021, more than 500,000 people in the province have received humanitarian assistance”, he said. 

Humanitarians stretched 

On top of conflict in Cabo Delgado, in the first months of 2021 and prior to the Palma attacks, the humanitarian community in Mozambique was already stretched, having responded to multiple climate emergencies. 

Yet, the humanitarian appeal for the current crisis is currently just one per cent funded.  

“More resources are immediately required to meet the needs of people fleeing the violence in Palma”, underscored the UN spokesperson.   

“The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict in Cabo Delgado to protect civilians.” 

Trapped and displaced 

Earlier in the week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the insurgent attack on Palma had forced at least 11,000 people to leave their homes and reportedly rendered thousands of others trapped as it “continues to work around the clock” to assist them. 

UNHCR said that its teams in Pemba were following up on worrying reports that more than 1,000 displaced people were prevented from crossing the border into Tanzania and called on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and asylum for people escaping violence. 

This is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond epic proportions — WFP Representative

‘Saving lives’ priority 

At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the deteriorating security situation has caused evacuation flights to be suspended and left UN agencies struggling to get into Palma with food assistance.  

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond epic proportions”, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Representative and Country Director for Mozambique, on Tuesday.  

The UN food relief agency warned that hunger is rising in Palma, with some arrivals into Pemba saying they had not eaten for weeks. 

“People fleeing Palma are completely traumatized by the violence they’ve witnessed in the past few days, and now, more than ever, they need our help”, said Ms. D’Aprile. “Our priority is saving lives and making sure emergency assistance reaches those who need it most”.

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Ethiopia: Humanitarian situation remains ‘dire’

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

The humanitarian situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, remains “dire”, the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General said on Wednesday.  

“While there has been substantial improvement in humanitarian access, active hostilities have been reported in the north-western, central, eastern, south-eastern and southern zones”, Stéphane Dujarric told correspondents at a regular press briefing.  

Following months of escalating tensions between the Ethiopian Government and the dominant regional force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base.  

Within days, militias from the neighbouring Amhara region had joined the fray, reportedly followed by some troops from neighbouring Eritrea – a long-time rival of Tigray. 

According to government forces, the region had been secured by the end of November, however TPLF resistance has continued amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses on all sides.  

Mass displacement 

The UN Spokesperson said that some humanitarian partners have accessed the towns of Gijet and Samre, in the southern and southeastern zones.  

“They reported that most of the population in these towns has fled”, he said, adding that the Alamata-Mekelle-Adigrat-Shire road remains “partially accessible”.   

Mr. Dujarric referenced the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in saying that an estimated 2.5 million people in rural Tigray have not had access to essential services over the last five months.  

Moreover, the conflict continues to drive massive displacement across the region, with tens of thousands of people moving towards urban areas, including to Mekelle and Shire.  

“According to a recent assessment report, there could be as many as 450,000 people displaced in Shire”, he stated. 

As UN humanitarian partners scale up the response, they are grappling with capacity and resource challenges, “which remains inadequate for the estimated 4.5 million people who need life-saving assistance”, said Mr. Dujarric.

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New programme to support Kenya’s coast and blue economy

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Team Europe, together with the Governors of six coastal counties in Kenya, the Ministry of Devolution and the Blue Economy Secretariat, launched the Go Blue initiative in Kenya on March 25, 2021. The four-year programme aims to protect Kenya’s coastal ecosystems while creating environmentally friendly jobs in a host of industries, including recycling, tourism and small-scale fishing. It is designed to foster a “sustainable blue economy” in six coastal counties and generate more than 3,000 jobs for youth and women alone.

Go Blue has received 25 million euros in funding from the European Union. Four EU Member States – France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal – will provide technical expertise on economic growth, while two UN agencies – the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and  UN-Habitat – will ensure that interventions are aligned with environmental conservation and urban planning goals and that the initiative helps coastal cities and communities adapt to adverse effects of climate change.

“Our marine and coastal ecosystems are extremely valuable in terms of providing ecosystem services – with many people earning their livelihoods through them,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Rather than depleting or polluting these resources, we must develop ways in which to harness and protect them.”

The push comes with maritime environments around the world, including those in Kenya, facing increasing pressure from climate change and pollution.  

Kenya has an abundance of untapped maritime resources along its coast. Go Blue will focus on helping coastal communities develop those resources in a way that is sustainable and that provides economic opportunities for women and youth. The initiative will bring inclusive, integrated and sustainable approaches to economic growth, while developing new work streams, like small-scale fisheries, waste recycling, aquaculture or tourism, and technical skills in blue economy sectors, strengthening value chains and tackling regional bottlenecks.

It will also promote coastal counties’ efforts to develop integrated approaches to land-sea planning and management with a focus on restoring key coastal and marine ecosystems. Lastly, the capacity of Kenya’s Coast Guard will be strengthened to safeguard ocean assets.

“Jointly working on integrated spatial planning solutions–both on land and in water–on different levels of government and with consideration to different sectors is key to achieving a sustainable blue economy,” said Maimunah Mohd. Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

Go Blue will be implemented in cooperation with the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani  – Kenya’s coast regional counties Economic Development Organization – together with national ministries, such as the Blue Economy Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Kenya Coast Guard Service, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Transport and Bandari Maritime Academy.

UN-Habitat and UNEP will support the six counties in developing three methodologies:

  • an integrated, ecosystem-based land-sea planning and management framework, which will improve spatial planning
  • a regional land-sea vision to prioritize blue economy-related issues
  • mapping, data collection and analysis on spatial planning and ecosystems assessments

This will feed into each county’s GIS data lab, as well as a regional GIS data hub, to strengthen data collection and analysis on land use changes, urbanization and environmental change patterns, marine and coastal natural assets, and human activity (e.g. fisheries, tourism, waste). In addition, the project will support waste management, constructed wetlands, blue carbon, mangrove restoration, spatial planning and community empowerment.

The information and evidence from all activities will support replication in other Kenyan towns through the initiative’s online knowledge-sharing platform and trainings. Furthermore, four counties should have developed their own land-sea planning proposals as a result of the project, and six innovative activities will be funded by investors that directly contribute to the blue economy and land-sea planning.

UN Environment

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