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Public-private partnerships crucial to foster digital development of industry and trade in southern Africa

20 March, 2021
Public-private partnerships crucial to foster digital development of industry and trade in southern Africa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 21, 2021 (ECA) – Industrialization cannot be economically viable without trade and trade cannot bring significant benefits to southern Africa without industrialization, says Sizo Mhlanga, Acting Director of the Economic Commission for Southern Africa (ECA SRO-SA).  

Speaking at a Conference of Ministers of Finance (COM2021) side event held Saturday, Mr. Mhlanga said, “These two economic forces must be developed together. And when it comes to trade in Africa, more of it should come from the region itself, to allow the region to industrialize and reduce its dependence on volatile global markets.”  

“We all hope that the African Continental Free Trade Area will help southern Africa achieve just that - industrialize and trade for greater prosperity.”   

Mr. Mhlanga said digitalization was fast becoming an increasing priority for SADC and African Member States as witnessed by the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy and the SADC Digital 2027 Agenda. Digitalization, he added, was a lever in the building back better process in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The side event was organized to analyse and discuss the role that digitalization can play and should play in fostering trade and industrial development in the region and what such a role implies for public-private partnerships in southern Africa, be it in the areas of building soft and hard digital infrastructure, addressing skills gap, addressing competitiveness challenges for companies, relieving the financing gaps of countries in the region, and enhancing cross-border trade.   

Both the public and the private sectors must increasingly collaborate if the region is to address its myriad development challenges, said Mr. Mhlanga, adding the event was critical for the region to progress further on the achievement of SDG 9 to reduce poverty, create decent jobs, empower women and youth, and reduce inequalities.    

The side event generated constructive dialogue involving members of the public sector, private sector, and non-governmental organisations in analysing how digitalization can aid trade, industrial transformation, and the advancement of sustainable development goal 9 on “Industry, innovation and infrastructure” in SADC.   

The side event was chaired by Ms. Bineswaree Bolaky, Economic Affairs Officer at ECA SRO-SA and included as high-level panellists: Mr. Francis Mangeni, head of the Trade Promotion and Programs, AfCFTA Secretariat; Mr. Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, Managing Director, Directorate of Digitalization, Technology and Agri-business, UNID; Mr. Ken Poonoosamy, Chief Executive officer, Economic Development Board of Mauritius; Ms. Sabine Dall’Omo, Chief Executive Officer, Siemens for Eastern and Southern Africa; Ms. Maxine Hlaba, President of the SADC Banking Association; and Mr. Hany Besada, Senior research/program advisor, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation. They all agreed that public-private partnerships were crucial to foster digital development of industry and trade in southern Africa.  

The panellists stressed among others, that Southern Africa needed its own model to industrialize and cannot simply replicate what has worked in other regions; that a new paradigm for industrialization was needed with digitalization and multi-stakeholder partnerships at the heart of it; and that African countries should not encourage labour saving technologies considering the high youth unemployment rates on the continent. Digitalization should play a complementary role to labour. While the region must address its digital infrastructure deficit, attention should be paid both to availability and costs of access to digital technologies for firms and households.  

Partnerships between the public and private sectors should rest on mutual trust, and spaces for open debate. It was highlighted that governments must provide a business enabling environment to the private sector, characterized by reduced political uncertainty as well as the setting of a clear vision and strong leadership. Science, technology, and innovation policies were critical for the region. 

Held under the theme; Public-private partnerships to foster digital development of industry and trade in Southern Africa, the side event was organized by the ECA Sub-regional office for Southern Africa, in collaboration with the SADC Business Council and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Issued by:
Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826