Hours before United States President Barack Obama is due to touch down in South Africa, top local defence industrialist Ivor Ichikowitz has called on him to pave the way for “genuine partnerships to be hammered out between nations”.
The man at the helm of the Paramount Group asks Obama in a guest memo posted on ft.com, “for more developed countries to look beyond their perceived wisdom and inherent prejudice about Africa’s abilities”.
“It is a continent of opportunity but it will only be unlocked through partnership. We in Africa have moved beyond a dependence on aid. The much discussed idea of spending 0.7% of GDP on international aid dates back to a UN motion in 1970. Africa is very different now. Even ‘trade not aid’ is now outdated and not delivering the transformation required.
“Africa is already exporting the highest technology products around the world and finding new solutions to modern problems but gets little recognition for it.”
As examples of what Africa can do he gives the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope and the Paramount Group, South Africa’s largest privately owned defence industry grouping.
“South Africa’s role in the ground-breaking SKA is an example of cutting edge technology that will open our understanding of the universe by allowing scientists from around the world to examine the stars thousands of times faster than ever before.”
Paramount, Ichikowitz adds, delivers lands, sea and helicopter and jet aircraft systems, also providing cutting edge technology for clients around the globe.
“If growth starved countries want to share in Africa’s success they must look to share in the industrialisation of the 54 diverse countries on the continent,” he writes in a repetition of an address to the New York Forum Africa in Gabon last week.
“I was asked to talk of the opportunities for the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] nations to invest in Africa. Instead I said it is precisely those countries which should be looking to attract African investment and products to solve their own domestic needs.”
Ichikowitz is of the opinion industrialisation in Africa remains slow, with the industrial share of GDP value added at 30% – almost unchanged from the early nineties.
“Africa needs investment in manufacturing to improve technology and competitiveness and much of this will come from the developing world by helping to expand existing markets in Europe and elsewhere. The responsibilities for growth do not lie outside Africa and governments across the continent must be pushed to legislate to make it illegal for raw materials to be exported before some kind of manufacturing process take place.
“Much of Africa’s vast natural wealth is being exploited and wasted by missing the opportunity to add value to products at source and increase the value of exports.
“In my travels across this continent over many years, I have seen people doing the most amazingly creative things in running small businesses to meet some or other local need.
“There is no shortage of talent and energy in Africa, nor is there any shortage of needs that entrepreneurs can find a way of satisfying; and as people, ideas, and techniques pour into the continent, Africans are learning and adapting quickly. Industrial partnerships will unite the best of the considerable talent and creativity of all Africa’s nations with the experience of other countries.
“Industrialisation will boost jobs in a part of the world where the median age is just 18, increasing social stability and generating larger tax takes for governments. It will advance skills, encourage aspiration and drive opportunity not just across Africa but for investment partners around the world.
“Yet despite all this potential there are too few African champions among the world’s leaders. Last week’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland largely ignored Africa’s potential,” Ichikowitz writes, urging the first citizen of the United States to “take the lead and help reset political and corporate attitudes to Africa so the continent – and the world – can find fresh growth”.