Investing in special economic zones can help transformation of Africa, experts say
Riding on its deepening relationship with China, Africa should
eagerly engage the Asian country on trade and investment in efforts to
realize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, experts say.
The goals aim at ending poverty, hunger and inequality, as well
as tackling climate change and building resilient infrastructure by
Moritz Weigel, the founding director of consulting company The China
Africa Advisory, says China is well positioned to help Africa to realize
the sustainable development goals as well as the African Union's Agenda
2063. This is because the two aides have a strong political commitment
and China has the experience, knowledge and technology that Africa
requires, he says.
Weigel also says African countries should take a leaf from and
work in partnership with China on investing in special economic zones,
which he says played a key role in transforming China's economy.
"We are working with UNDP China(United Nations Development
Pro-gramme-China) on developing a framework for sustainable SEZs. We are
looking at the existing examples from zones in Africa and Asian
countries on how they have incorporated sustainability aspects
successfully from a business perspective," he says.
Weigel says planning and institutional arrangements must be in
place to support the development and operation of special economic
"It's not an easy task, because it involves various ministries.
Hence coordinating them toward delivering successful programs has been a
challenge to many countries. There is also need for sustainable
financing to ensure that other supporting infrastructures are also in
place for the SEZs to be effective," he says.
Meng Guangwen, a professor at the College of Geography and
Environmental Science at Tianjin Normal University, describes special
economic zones as platforms for structural reform, noting that the zones
have played a crucial role in China's economic growth.
As part of its economic reform and policy of opening up to the
world, China, between 1980 and 1984, established SEZs in Shantou,
Shenzhen and Zhuhai in Guangdong province and Xiamen, Fujian province,
and designated the entire island province of Hainan as a special
To date, the zones have transformed China into one of the largest
foreign direct investment recipients, exporters and foreign exchange
reserve holders globally.
Buzuayehu Tedele, chairman of East African Holding Group, says
that while foreign companies such as Chinese enterprises can develop
master plans and infrastructure designs, it's important for African
countries to localize the knowledge.
Nabil Mohamed, the Djiboutian minister for higher education and
research, says that for Africa to succeed and generally meet the
sustainable development goals, it must create industries and attract
foreign investors like Chinese enterprises. Creation of industries
should also lead to job creation, especially for youths, he says.
Mohamed adds that African countries should also work on peace and
security in order to attract foreign investments, as well as realize
Tegegnework Gettu, a UN undersecretary-general and UNDP associate
administrator, says multi-stakeholder partnerships and regional
collaborations such as the one between China and Africa provide many
opportunities for promoting economic growth, industrialization and
investment for sustainable development.
"China's Belt and Road Initiative is an important example of
enhanced regional cooperation, aiming to promote the connectivity of the
African, Asian and European continents through better infrastructure
connectivity, closer trade relations, financial integration and policy
coordination," he says.
He says Africa is still extremely rich in natural resources, but
only structural transformation, diversification and a transition toward
labor-intensive manufacturing will enable African countries to chart
sustainable development pathways.
"The aspiration of the 2030 agenda to leave no one behind can
only be achieved with a combination of effective social protection and
improved creation of decent jobs, especially to generate sustained
income for the large and growing segment of young people," he says.