The lack of infrastructure in the African continent and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is one of the major reasons why prosperity has evaded these nations. Energy supply and storage facilities are scarce, transportation routes remain scant, and communication capabilities are stunted. As a result, these nations are not able to fully exploit their trade and investment potential. However, many of these countries are also poised to solve these problems as they are home to a young population, an emerging middle class, an array of natural resources and a highly educated diaspora.
With the collaboration of other international organizations, the G20 plans to take specific actions to support the industrialization of developing countries including promoting knowledge sharing and vocational training, supporting special economic zones, as well as expanding investment in sustainable energy.
Africa is often regarded as the last frontier for industrialization. The G20’s plan for industrializing Africa and other developing countries seems to revolve around harnessing Africa’s human resources and employing technology to enhance investment.
Of course, one key aspect of industrialization is the availability of reliable electricity. China is poised to lead the G20 in solving Africa’s power problem as the Asian country already accounts for 30% of new power capacity additions in the Sub-Saharan region over the last 5 years. The International Energy Agency has also found that China has invested about 13 billion USD from 2010 to 2015 in Africa’s power sector, financed largely through Chinese public lending.
In Africa, the lack of electricity cannot be underestimated. Only seven Sub-Saharan African nations—Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa—have electricity access rates that exceed 50 percent. The other countries have an average access rate of about 20 percent.
Although electrification and industrialization are needed in many African countries, it is also essential to look into how industrializing Africa may result in unintended consequences including pollution. Africa’s pollution could indeed prove to be a humanitarian disaster. Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Center (OECD) estimates that annual deaths from outdoor particulate matter pollution across the African continent increased by 36 percent from 1990 to 2013. It is not hard to imagine how further industrialization might eventually result in a public health catastrophe.
South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, seems very confident about the industrialization of Africa only resulting in positive outcomes. Speaking to China’s CCTV amid the G20 conferences, President Zuma, representing the only African country in the G20 asserted, “The question of industrialization in our own continent has one side only, [it] does not have a negative side.
It is indeed the hope of many African countries that the continent will quickly industrialize and unleash its immense potential. The G20’s plan to bring industrialization to Africa should certainly keep in mind the costs of developing as well as the gains.