Repurposing Africa’s manufacturing: A means to address medical equipment shortages and spur industrialisation

 Rajkumar Mayank Singh, Tony Blair Institute (TBI) Strategic Advisor to the Government of Rwanda, Antoine Huss, Regional Lead, Francophone West Africa, TBI, Jonathan Said, Head of Inclusive Economic Growth, Africa, TBI, and Kekeli Ahiable, West Africa Analyst, TBI

This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.

PPE production in a repurposed factory in Ghana
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) production in a repurposed factory in Ghana. Photo courtesy of the authors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that around 22% of Africa’s population will be infected by COVID-19 within a year, possibly resulting in 150,000 deaths. In a recent forecast by Kearney, even in a suppressed pandemic progression scenario, demand for medical gowns, gloves, masks, swabs, and hand sanitizers will surge by ~1,600 percent from the baseline. In such circumstances, weak health systems and a lack of essential medical supplies leave countries in Africa particularly vulnerable.

Governments around the world have been panic buying essential medical supplies, while the World Trade Organization recently reported eighty countries that have introduced export prohibitions restricting the global supply of medical equipment. In 2018, as depicted in figure 1, industrialised countries like the U.S.A. and Germany had the largest market share in global export of ventilators and testing kits, while China led exports of face masks globally. With African countries importing most of their medical needs, panic buying and supply chain disruptions will significantly undermine the ability of African countries – and hence the world – to defeat COVID-19. Continue reading

Accelerating the response to COVID-19: what does Africa need?

By Annalisa Primi, Head, Structural Policies and Innovation, OECD Development Centre, and Stephen Karingi, Director, Regional Integration and Trade, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and with Lily Sommer, Wafa Aidi, ECA, Vasiliki Mavroeidi, Manuel Toselli, OECD development Centre

This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


Africa is at high risk. The most externally oriented economies, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria account for 52% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases (32,979 as of April 28th). The continent lacks adequate healthcare systems. Hospital capacity is weak with 0.3 beds per 1,000 people in Senegal and 2.8 in South Africa, versus 6.5 in France and 8.3 in Germany. The continent is highly dependent on imports of medical supplies: 94% come from countries that have been hard hit by the pandemic, many of which are now limiting exports to ensure domestic provision of critical equipment. The pandemic magnifies the continent’s structural weaknesses, which make self-isolation and lockdown measures costly and hard to implement: 60% of the world’s poorest people live in Africa and the majority of the workforce is informal. The digital gap hampers telework and automation and governments are not able to mobilise investments at the scale needed to secure all citizens. African governments have taken important steps already, also building on lessons learnt in previous pandemic outbreaks. But the challenge is unprecedented: a global solidarity deal is needed. Continue reading

The future of manufacturing and development: three things to remember


By Annalisa Primi, Head, Structural Policies and Innovation, OECD Development Centre 

To learn more about countries’ strategies for economic transformation, follow the 10th Plenary and High-Level Meeting of the OECD Initiative for Policy Dialogue on Global Value Chains, Production Transformation and Development in Paris, France on 27-28 June 2018

shutterstock_444327613Not all factories are the same. Today, their differences are bigger, more impressive and carry far-reaching implications for development in developing economies. Since the 1970s, industrial production has been organised in complex, multi-country networks of suppliers and providers. The conventional expectation was that this trend would be conducive to growing homogeneity, with converging techniques of production, salaries, standards and business organisation in the “world factory” system. However, as things do not often go “by the book”, manufacturing today encompasses far different realities. China has become the world’s leading manufacturing country. Early industrialisers have built complex value chains, delocalising non-core manufacturing activities to developing economies with relatively lower labour costs and growing domestic markets. The result: manufacturing is a collection of deeply different systems. And differences exist even within the same sector. Just look at the textiles industrial parks in Ethiopia that manufacture for and export fast fashion brands, such as Spain’s Zara. Or look at the robot-powered, fully automated smart factory of Adidas in Germany, which has been making customised mass production of textiles a reality in Europe since 2016. Consider the artisanal, luxury, on-demand, tailor-made production of Lamborghinis in Emilia Romagna, the highly automated export-oriented Audi production in Mexico, and the vertically integrated, only partially automated, domestic market-oriented BYD electric vehicle factory in Shenzhen, China. Continue reading

Implementing industrialisation strategies in Africa

By Dirk Willem te Velde, Director of Supporting Economic Transformation Programme and Head of International Economic Development Group, ODI

Explore this topic further with the upcoming launch of the
2017 African Economic Outlook: Entrepreneurship and Industrialisation in Africa.
Stay tuned for details


A cursory look at national and pan-Africa policy statements suggests that many African countries have a strong desire to industrialise. They have a point: manufacturing creates jobs, diffuses technology and makes the economy more resilient. Unfortunately, much analysis points to a reduction recently in the share of manufacturing as a percent of GDP on the continent, although significant progress is being made in selected countries. Real manufacturing value added has grown around 7% annually or more over 2005-2015 in Tanzania, Rwanda or Ethiopia. And few realise that real manufacturing production and exports of manufacturing doubled in sub-Saharan Africa in the decade to 2015.1

Continue reading