Africa should focus ‘on domestic needs, not exports’

African states should address the needs of local markets and of their regions before looking at what can be exported globally, and not the other way round as is currently the case.

This proposal was made by a participant at a meeting of the Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy, which was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from November 27 to 29.

The process is a joint initiative of Tanzania and Finland aimed at mobilising political will and resources towards actualising global development commitments. These include the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals and Millennium Declaration.

“The assumption is if we export primary commodities, they will raise capital which will have a ‘trickle-down effect’ and address developmental needs. But, as you know, that is not happening, despite many of our goods and resources being exported,” said Michelle Pressend, senior researcher at the South African international relations think tank the Institute for Global Dialogue.

“We should only trade in things we don’t have. For example, if we can’t manufacture medical equipment, we can import it. But food and basic necessities are things that African countries can produce themselves.

“Countries need to take into account their resource bases. There are countries that are water scarce, like South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Perhaps they shouldn’t be focusing on agriculture. Maybe this should be left to countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe that have water. They should be growing maize and other agricultural products.”

Pressend is of the opinion that countries lacking in water, for example, should concentrate on adding value to commodities. For this reason, she suggests there should be negotiation and collaboration among African countries about diversification rather than countries competing by producing similar goods.

Production remains at the level of primary commodities with little diversification. To address this, technology, strategic direction and investment from the public sector are required, Pressend said. Governments should also invest to build industry.

The important thing is to focus on countries’ productive capacity. This will create jobs, she pointed out.


Governments should put in place financial frameworks and conditionalities for investments to ensure that resources are made available for the development of local technology. For example, argued Pressend, Chinese companies interested in mining minerals in Africa should provide technology transfer in return.

“In order to develop our industries, we as Africans need to put in place investment conditions or codes for national, regional and international investors.”

She also said that a focus on informal cross-border trade is necessary for the development of trade among different African regions. This is key for development and tackling economic challenges.

“While formal trade is important, we must focus on informal trade and how it can be facilitated. The informal sector forms a big part of our economies, yet there are insufficient resources to promote its development.

“We need to look at options such as developing local markets and cooperation at national level, especially in agriculture. Our production should not just be directed at exports. The focus should be to provide sufficient resources, water and inputs,” Pressend proposed.

She warned that “it is important for countries to retain protective tariffs. If we liberalise trade, we will be subjected to strong competition by European companies and will never be able to compete. Our production and our industrial strategies must be protected.”

Mat Noor Nawi, the director of the economic planning unit of the Prime Minister’s Office in Malaysia, told the conference that the interface between developed and developing nations should not favour one side at the expense of the other.

“Developing countries should be allowed to determine their own policy space,” he said, adding that Malaysia’s success story shows much emphasis needs to be placed on monitoring and evaluation of programmes and policies.

He also stressed flexibility and people-centred approaches, political stability, well-coordinated mechanisms and active NGOs and private firms as part of the reasons for growth in the Malaysian economy.

Dr Samuel Wangwe, a consultant, and Dr Yash Tandon, executive director of the intergovernmental think tank South Centre, based in Geneva, Switzerland, agreed that alternative knowledge systems are needed. Wangwe proposed increasing capacity for policy research.

Participants reiterated that developing countries should be allowed to determine their own policy spaces and that developed countries’ support for developing countries should be flexible. — IPS

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

On the road with East African truck drivers

In East Africa, truck drivers are being attacked, robbed and used as diplomatic footballs

Festac, the ANC and the arts

Keorapetse Kgositsile played a vital part in elevating the position of the cultural worker

Bumbling, irrational, deadly: The Tanzanian president is getting the Covid-19 response all wrong

Discerning leadership is critical in the time of Covid-19 and John Magufuli’s decisions — or lack thereof — have put Tanzanians at greater risk

Fear grips Tanzania’s queer people

A commissioner’s threat of a crackdown has resulted in them going into hiding or fleeing the country

Editorial: Journalism under attack in Africa

'Journalists will not go down without a fight, even as it becomes ever more difficult to do so'

Africa’s youngest billionaire kidnapped in Tanzania — police

In 2013 Mohammed Dewji became the first Tanzanian to grace the cover of Forbes magazine, and was in 2015 named Forbes Africa Person of the Year

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

The PPE scandal that the Treasury hasn’t touched

Many government officials have been talking tough about dealing with rampant corruption in PPE procurement but the majority won't even release names of who has benefited from the R10-billion spend

ANC still at odds over how to tackle leaders facing...

The ANC’s top six has been mandated to work closely with its integrity committee to tackle claims of corruption against senior party members

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday