Industrial-Strength Africa

VIENNA – In less than eight months, close to a quarter-million migrants, many from Africa, have arrived in Europe by sea – more than in all of 2014 – and the tide shows no signs of stopping. Some are fleeing wars and persecution; others, mostly young people, are seeking economic opportunities. Addressing the migration crisis thus requires efforts not only to address instability in source regions, but also to alleviate poverty and create employment. The key to achieving the latter goal is industry.

Over the last decade, Africa has recorded an annual average growth rate of 5%, with some countries reaching more than 7%. But that growth, based mainly on commodity exports and extractive industries, has demonstrated a limited capacity to drive socioeconomic transformation, not least because most of its benefits have accrued to a small share of the population.

Africa has the tools it needs to change this – beginning with a massive untapped labor force. Indeed, some 60% of Africa’s unemployed are young people. An estimated 23 million more young people will be joining African labor markets this year, and the continent’s total workforce is expected to increase by 910 million from 2010 to 2050.

Of course, a large labor force means little without quality jobs. That is why African countries should aim to build industry-driven economies, capable of providing such jobs, as well as opportunities for social inclusion, including reliable access to clean energy, adequate food, and safe water.