“Creating a thriving economy is never easy in Africa - insufficient investment, poor infrastructure, cumbersome logistics, red tape and corruption are all constant challenges.”
That’s what one frustrated student told my New Perimeter colleagues, Claire, Martin, Aline, Christine, and me on our first day of teaching a one-week LLM course on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) at the University of Pretoria last month.
That student and 15 others had come to South Africa for a year, from all corners of the African continent, to learn about trade and development solutions that might one day transform their national economies. Despite their diversity, the students had a lot in common: sharp intellect, inquisitiveness, enthusiasm, good humor, drive and a sense of realism. They were also all looking for the same thing - practical solutions that could work in an African context, as opposed to cookie cutter solutions based economic theories and the remarkable (but perhaps irreplicable) experience of countries like China.
Over the course of a week, we introduced the students to the concept of SEZs, which are essentially geographic regions where the economic laws, infrastructure, facilities and operational systems are more business friendly than would typically be the case in that country. SEZs have been established throughout the world in order to attract foreign investment, create jobs, stimulate production, enhance export competitiveness and test-run new economic policies. We talked the students through the legal, political and commercial requirements for creating successful SEZs, and highlighted the lessons that can be learned from the positive and negative experiences of countries such as Kenya and Senegal. Throughout the week, students shared their own national experiences and asked insightful questions about how to tackle their countries’ most pressing problems.
I’ve no doubt that creating a thriving economy is never easy in Africa, but I hope my New Perimeter colleagues and I have given 16 of Africa’s leaders of tomorrow a few ideas about how to tackle some of the continent’s most pressing trade and development challenges, one small step at a time.