Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance, says Africans are lazy in the way we talk about diversification — a project that can’t be realised within fours years.
The senior adviser of Lazard, who also dubs as Gavi board chair, said it took Dubai over 30 years to attain true diversification, drawing lessons for Africa.
“We need to look at the area of diversification. We ask ourselves, all the time, we talk about diversification, but I think we are a little bit lazy in the way we talk about it,” she said in an interview with Africa CEO forum.
“Diversification cannot happen over four years. Look at Dubai; it took Dubai more than three decades. Now all of us are rushing there to go and do business, to go for medical check up, to go and enjoy ourselves.
“They didn’t do this overnight, they began to think about it years ago, and it took them three decades. So African countries must get serious and say now, what are the logistics? What is the infrastructure?
“What do we need and how do we concretely start one sector at a time to diversify so that we can have an economy that is less dependent.”
She highlighted the need for African countries to go beyond talking to specialising and improving on industrialisation.
“The next question is industrialisation and trade. How do we attract more manufacturing into our countries and also specialise in our trade. The trade among us is so little, anywhere from 12 to 16 percent, has not been growing much over the years.
“We are all producing the same thing, so quite apart from the logistical problems that confront trade, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to sell each other the same trade? The answer is no.
“Our trade will never grow as long as we don’t specialise among ourselves, and that means that some of us have to get into manufacturing, we have to industrialise more, so that we can send different goods to different countries. These are areas where we need to do deep thinking, not just talking.”