African govts urged to promote manufacturing sector

BY: Kwadwo Baffoe Donkor
• Mrs Salma Okonkwo
• Mrs Salma Okonkwo

The Chief Executive Officer of Blue Power Energy Limited, Mrs Salma Okonkwo, has called on African countries to enact policies that will encourage the development of local manufacturing capacity.

That, she said, “will boost local economies, present an opportunity to strengthen regional energy systems and create higher-paying productive jobs”.

She said due to the outbreak of COVID-19, many economies around the world had suffered a great deal of impact and stressed that it was an opportunity for Africans to build the local manufacturing capacity and produce to feed the internal market.

“COVID-19 has made job creation even more paramount, considering that 20 million Africans are likely to lose their jobs because of the pandemic,” she said.

Occasion

Mrs Okonkwo was speaking to the Daily Graphic in an interview in Kumasi during the Millennium Excellence Award held under the patronage of the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

The biennial event was organised by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.

Mrs Okonkwo is a Senior Business Executive with over 20 years experience in the African energy sector and with extensive working knowledge of the oil and gas sector in the West African sub-region.

Her Blue Power Energy Limited company is an alternative energy conglomerate financing a $200 million solar farm in northern Ghana. 

She has been featured in many international magazines, including Forbes, and has been interviewed by Reuters for her pioneering role in promoting sustainable development in Africa.

She said there was particular room for growth in advanced manufacturing rather than the low-skilled, labour-fuelled manufacturing of cheap products “that is typically associated with developing markets”.

For instance, she said, “African countries import as much as 90 per cent of their pharmaceuticals — an import market worth close to $14 billion.

“Producing these drugs domestically would recapture some of this value and support industries related to pharmaceuticals such as health care and higher education,” she said.

In spite of the huge potential in manufacturing in Africa, Mrs Okonkwo, who won the MEF President’s Personality of the decade award, said one of the challenges facing industries was the cost of energy.

“The high cost of electricity across the continent is holding back Africa’s manufacturing growth. By some estimates, African businesses pay 25 to 100 per cent more for electricity from the grid than similar companies in other regions.

“This is because businesses must often rely on expensive backup generators as primary energy sources in the face of frequent power outages. One study found that 25 per cent of businesses in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola suffered double-digit losses in sales due to power outages, with some firms losing 31 per cent,” she lamented.

She said a growing manufacturing sector would require large-scale, reliable and sustainable energy systems.

The CEO of Blue Power Energy said there was the need for governments and private investors alike to focus on transmission and distribution projects to reliably deliver power to businesses across African countries.

“In West Africa, energy portfolios of hydropower, solar and wind have the potential to be significantly cheaper than natural gas by 2030. Off-grid solar projects may also provide manufacturers with an alternative to national power grids,” she said.

She expressed the view that strengthening the energy systems must go hand-in-hand with the development of the manufacturing sector.