The first of the two 2013 UNU-WIDER Development Conferences will be held on 24‑25 June in Helsinki, Finland. The conference titled ‘L2C – Learning to Compete: Industrial Development and Policy in Africa’ builds on the research from the collaborative project between UNU-WIDER, the Brookings Institution and the African Development Bank, and aims to bring together research on industrial development and industrial policy in Africa. The conference will feature a mix of plenary speakers and panels, sessions based on invited papers and those submitted through the call for papers, which will be open from 15 November 2012 to 31 January 2013.
While the last three decades were boom times for industrial development in low- and middle-income countries, industry has been moving out of Africa. Between 1995 and 2008, manufacturing growth in developing economies was more than six per cent per year, yet in Africa it was only about three per cent. Since 1980 industry in Africa has declined as a share of both global production and trade.
Africa has ‘deindustrialized’. Manufacturing value added has declined as a share of GDP since the mid-1980s. New evidence shows that between 1975 and 2005 the diversity and sophistication of industrial production and exports declined in most African economies. Today, Africa’s industrial sector is in many ways less advanced than in the first decade following independence.
Industry is most often the leading high-productivity sector, and recent research indicates that economies with more diverse and sophisticated industrial sectors tend to grow faster. In spite of the positive growth performance of the African economies since 1995, lack of structural change—the shift of resources from low-productivity to higher-productivity sectors—limits the continents long-term growth prospects and opportunities for productive employment.
Not surprisingly, Africa’s lack of industrial development has begun to occupy the attention of a growing number of researchers and development practitioners. The June 2013 UNU-WIDER conference will be an appropriate time to take stock of this body of work, encourage an exchange of views between researchers and selected policy makers, and lay out an agenda for future research and policy. It offers an opportunity to showcase results of ‘Learning to Compete (L2C): Accelerating Industrial Development in Africa’ project, but also, importantly, to place them in the context of other research.