Consumption to Production: Why African Countries have to create Local Alternatives

In the second week of every November, entrepreneurs the world over come together to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). Since the creation of the Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2008, more than 10 million people from about 170 countries have participated in entrepreneurship-related events and activities during the annual commemorations. The 2021 GEW with the theme “Reboot, Rethink and Regenerate” is a call to action for all societies to be resilient and to come together to leverage the power of new ideas and innovation for the benefit of all.

In Nigeria, the LeadPreneur Network organized the 2021 edition of the annual LeadPreneur Roundtable, to celebrate the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). This year’s event which was held virtually on the 10th of November, 2021, had the theme “From Consumption to Production: Reboot, Rethink and Regenerate”. I had the privilege as the President, of giving the welcome address, with renowned speakers, panellists and moderators joining in from different parts of the globe to discuss how Africa can move from consumption to production.

No doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic took the world by surprise. What started locally in Wuhan, China became a global concern that resulted in the closure of international borders, stringent social distancing policies, mask mandates, among other precautions. However, the pandemic did not only affect global physical and social activities, it also dealt a huge blow to our economic activities, Africa being one of the continents severely hit. The pandemic exacerbated the flaws in the African economic system, further weakening the fabric holding it together.

Africa is deemed to be a consumption-dependent continent, and research further proves that one in five (20 percent) of the world’s consumers will live in Africa in the coming decade. Furthermore, the largest African economy, Nigeria, had a trade deficit of N7.37 trillion in 2020; with total imports standing at N5.92trn in Q4 2020, which was an increase of only about 10 percent compared to Q3 of the same year. Imports accounted for 65 percent of total trade, while exports accounted for a measly 35 percent, as revealed by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. These data are a pointer to the fact that Nigeria is mostly import-dependent, which begs the question: How does the country make a transition from consumption to production? How does it leverage the array of raw materials and natural resources within its borders for increased production?

No country has survived by producing for itself alone. Every successful country with a strong currency has prioritized production and export over importation at some point, and Nigeria and other African countries need to glean from this strategy as well as take swift actions towards boosting production. A wise man once said that it is foolishness to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. That is, Nigeria needs a different approach to our production processes. On one hand, there is an urgent need to establish systems that convert natural resources into industrial raw materials. On the other hand, these raw materials must be processed into finished products by leveraging the rich human and capital resources as well as local alternatives within our purview.

Frankly, businesses of the future require critical thinking, innovative approaches, and blue ocean strategies into our processes, procedures, and how we do business, but success only happens when we take action as opposed to sitting idly by. As business leaders, we must look beyond the conventional ways of doing business if we want to experience an upward trajectory in the manufacturing and production sector.

No country has survived by producing for itself alone. Every successful country with a strong currency has prioritized production and export over importation at some point

In 2020, manufacturing activities in Nigeria were halted as a result of the government’s shutdown directives, affecting a wide range of businesses that are directly or indirectly related to manufacturing, including the cement, steel, metal, plastic, and glass production industries. But this does not need to remain as it is. The pandemic is slowly receding, so we have to reboot, learn the lessons and do better going forward. We have to wake up from our slumber and begin to plan towards the future.

We know that Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) are the backbone of major developed economies, contributing significantly to employment, economics, and export growth. A PwC survey showed that SMEs in Nigeria account for 48 percent of national GDP, 96 percent of businesses, and 84 percent of employment. However, despite the significant contribution of SMEs to the Nigerian economy, challenges that impede the sector’s growth and development persist, chief of which is lack of access to finance, poor education and underdeveloped infrastructure.

In a nutshell, if Nigeria, and Africa at large, will compete in the global market, then it needs to focus on producing more and consuming less. It needs to pay keen attention to producing what other countries want and need, and serving it to them at a profit. This way, it will drive foreign exchange alongside other benefits. We can only achieve this when we begin to look inwards at local alternatives; developing and equipping local businesses to thrive, financing the small and medium enterprise sector, among other solutions.

The future is here and now, and the tides are moving faster than ever. Now is the time to ride the wave towards the future, especially with the advent of New Generation Technologies: Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Virtual Currencies and Realities, Big Data, etc. Summarily, the African continent needs to position itself as a global landmark for production, not consumption as we currently are. And of course, the potential and resources to actualize this are within reach. We only need to harness them, each one from our respective corners of influence.

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