António Guterres (UN Secretary-General) at the Civil Society Meeting on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

The Covid-19 crisis was impacting Africa “well before the pandemic spread across the continent”, the UN chief said recently on Nov. 20, marking Africa Industrialization Day, arriving at a point when many economies were expanding and “poverty was in decline.”  

“Technology and innovation were being embraced across the continent, and progress had been made in unity and economic integration,” Secretary-General António Guterres added. 

Moreover, the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area promised “a strong boost” in trade between nations.

A stunning reversal


However, the prolonged pandemic has taken a sizable toll on economic activity and pushed the region into its first recession in 25 years, according to UN figures. 

There has been falling demand for African commodities and products, disruptions in trade and travel, reduced remittances and foreign investment, and vast job and income losses. 

And the combination of domestic lockdowns and lower external demand due to the global recession will weigh heavily on the industrial sector.

A ‘more resilient’ continent

In working to realize the objectives of the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa, which runs from 2016 to 2025, and by following the roadmaps laid out by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Africa’s Agenda 2063, Mr. Guterres said, “the response to the Covid-19 crisis offers an opportunity to redress structural inequalities and vulnerabilities and promote transformative change for a more resilient Africa.” 

Industry can enhance productivity, increase the capabilities of the workforce, and generate employment, by introducing new equipment and new techniques. 

And with strong linkages to domestic economies, industrialization will help African countries achieve high growth rates, diversify their economies and reduce their exposure to external shocks.

“On Africa Industrialization Day, I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations system to support inclusive, resilient and sustainable industrial development in Africa,” the secretary-general said.

A chorus of support

“All farmers should have access to innovation and digital resources to transform agri-food systems and achieve rural development,” said Qu Dongyu, chief of the Food and Agriculture Organization. “Let’s grow, nourish and sustain, together for a modern and sustainable African agriculture!”

The UN Industrial Development Organization tweeted that “industrialization helps African countries achieve high growth rates, diversify economies and reduce exposure to external shocks, such as Covid19,” pledging its commitment to the third Industrial Development Decade and Agenda 2063.

The General Assembly proclaimed Nov. 20 Africa Industrialization Day in 1989. Since then, the UN has organized global events on that day to raise awareness about the importance of Africa’s industrialization and the challenges faced by the continent. (UN News)