The continent is searching for its own path to economic take-off

【双语】会盛开吗?Will it bloom?-书迷号

Another example is horticulture. In normal times, more than 400 tonnes of cut flowers are flown out of Nairobi every day, on average. In Ziway, an Ethiopian town, kilometre-long greenhouses sprawl like aircraft hangars beside the dust and donkey carts. Roses grow for transport to the Netherlands. Covid-19 has thrown many of these firms into crisis. But when travel and trade bounce back, so will opportunities.


This is not classic manufacturing, but it is not subsistence farming either. Economists at UNU-WIDER, a research institute, talk of these as “industries without smokestacks”. They include tourism and call centres. Africa’s diversity means there will be many routes to success.


Six years ago Roger Lee decided to open a new factory. As the boss of TAL Apparel, a clothing firm in Hong Kong, he already ran operations from China to Indonesia. In Ethiopia he found a supportive government, duty-free access to American markets and wages that were a tenth of what he paid in China. So he rented a shed at a new industrial park in Hawassa.


If Asian-style manufacturing is to take off anywhere in Africa, it might be in Ethiopia, which has some of the lowest wages in the world. Clothing firms like TAL employed 27,000 people in Hawassa before the covid crisis. One Asian factory-owner says the city reminds him of a Bangladeshi port when his uncles opened shop there three decades ago.


Yet Hawassa is an experiment, and much could still go wrong. Ethnic riots have caused shutdowns. Workers rarely meet production targets. Most are young women from the countryside. “They don’t have the mindset for working in a factory,” sighs a manager. Bosses show “no mercy”, says one 19-year-old, rushing from her shift to night class at a local college. It is hard to get time off for sickness or to sit an exam. Workers’ pay does not stretch far and rents are high, so they sleep four to a room.


The low wages that pull in investors also push workers away. In its first year of operation, attrition rates at the industrial park were roughly 100%. Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago and Stefan Dercon of the University of Oxford tracked new hires in Ethiopian factories and commercial farms. A third quit within three months, and 77% within a year.

低工资引来了投资者,却赶走了工人。在投入运营的第一年,工业园区的员工流失率差不多是百分之百。芝加哥大学的克里斯·布拉特曼(Chris Blattman)和牛津大学的斯特凡·德尔康(Stefan Dercon)追踪了埃塞俄比亚工厂和商业农场新员工的情况。有三分之一的员工在三个月内辞职,77%在一年内辞职。

The Ethiopian experience points to the paradoxes at the heart of Africa’s transformation. While economists worry about jobless millions, factory bosses struggle to find pliant labour. Workers arrive late and quit at harvest time. Contracts are hard to enforce. Markets gum up.


None of this would surprise a visitor from 18th-century Lancashire or 1990s Guangdong. In societies set to agrarian rhythms, the transition to industrial capitalism is a profound social rupture. It carries new notions of law, time and discipline, and creates new kinds of people: commercial farmers, docile workers, methodical managers. It means loss as well as gain. It should be no surprise when many people are indifferent or hostile to change.


The same hesitation is found in some African leaders, long cushioned by aid and oil money. “The urgency for economic transformation is not making them lose any sleep,” says Abebe Shimeles of the African Economic Research Consortium. Yet demographic destiny is pushing the continent towards a reckoning. Some 15m-20m young Africans are entering the workforce each year. Without good jobs, many may take their grievances to the streets.

在一些非洲领导人身上也能看到同样的犹豫。长期以来他们以援助和石油收入做后盾。“经济转型的紧迫性丝毫没有让他们睡不着觉。”非洲经济研究联合会(African Economic Research Consortium)的阿贝贝·希梅利斯(Abebe Shimeles)说。不过,人口结构趋势正在推动非洲认清形势。每年大约有1500万至2000万的非洲年轻人加入劳动力大军。没有好的就业机会,很多人可能会上街抗议。

Some economists such as Dani Rodrik at Harvard University argue that automation, competition and shifting demand are closing the door to countries wanting to copy Asia’s miracle. Yet not everyone needs a factory job. Many Africans will move from subsistence farms to commercial ones, or from living alongside a game reserve to guiding tourists around one. Economic transformation, of a distinctively African kind, is a prize worth chasing. ■

哈佛大学的丹尼·罗德里克(Dani Rodrik)等一些经济学家认为,自动化、竞争和需求变化使得大门正在对那些想要复制亚洲奇迹的国家关闭。然而,并不是每个人都需要一份工厂的活计。许多非洲人将从自给自足农场转向商业农场,或者从与野生动物保护区为邻转向在保护区周围为游客做向导。独具非洲特色的经济转型值得奋力追求。