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UNIDO General Conference gets under way in Vienna

UNIDO General Conference gets under way in Vienna

The ongoing 14th session of the UNIDO General Conference has assembled hundreds of participants including Heads of States, Ministers and other high-level government officials from around the world. They are discussing issues pertaining industrial revolution and sustainable development. The session which started November 28 in Vienna, is expected to end on the 2nd December 2011.

This year’s theme “The New Industrial Revolution: Making it sustainable,” will focus on the strategic and sustainable industrial developments which are crucial in the environmental, economic and social sectors. According to UNIDO, “This is of particular relevance to developing countries in the present international development context.”

During the session, a speech delivered by trade Minster Dr. Richard Conteh on behalf of His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, highlights the importance of this year’s theme, and the challenges that require hard work and commitment.

Read full speech bellow:

Statement on behalf of His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma President of the Republic of Sierra Leone at the Opening Ceremony of the 14th Session of the UNIDO General Conference on Monday 28 November 2011

Sustainability has become one of the world’s most valued words, very much in demand in almost every global forum. Today we are using the concept in the same sentence as revolution. Revolution is a word that gives leaders sleepless nights, for they usually sweep them out of power. That is why to ask a leader to talk about sustaining a revolution makes UNIDO a very brave organization. I applaud you for this bravery.

But I must advise that revolutions of almost any type are very difficult to sustain. This is why I believe the theme for this year’s General Conference poses a very big challenge to us. How do we make the new industrial revolution sustainable? 

I come here to share our aspirations for meaningful inclusion in the new industrial revolution. I come from one of the least industrialized nations in the world; but our aspirations for industrialization is as great as any other country. Our aspirations are great because we see an industrial revolution as the greatest opportunity for creating wealth, creating jobs, and moving our people out of poverty.

From England in the 18th century, America in the 19th, Korea and Japan in the 20th, to China, India and Brazil in the 21st centuries, we have seen how industrialization moved millions of people out of poverty. We aspire to do the same for our nations. We have seen how industries brought about unbelievable increases in GDPs and per capita income, and we desire that.

At the same time however, we have also seen how industrialization destroyed the environment in many places and we want to avoid that. We have seen how industries created massive social disorders, how it benefitted some men and left out some women, how it tied survival of some people to the vagaries of demand in some far off places, and how it sometimes created economic regimes that left too many people out in the cold.

We indeed know about these wider challenges, but the opportunities for growth, wealth creation, economic and social advancement that the new industrial revolution promises must be seized with great zeal. It is as much a moral imperative, as it is a good governance obligation to be part and parcel of the new industrial revolution. The challenges will not scare us. We cannot be left out; we should not be left out, and we will not be left out.

Africa cannot continue to be a continent with an economy mainly based on raw materials traded without further processing. We cannot afford to be excluded from the value chains of the global economy.

At the last session of the UNIDO General Conference, Director-General Yumkella rightly identified “Global megatrends” that pose big challenges to our collective efforts.   The megatrends of exploding populations, fuel, food and financial crises demand policy responses that defy existing paradigms. We need a realignment of our mind-sets.

Our margins for error are not great, and time is of the essence. The times are passed when most countries could tolerate large margins of errors. Nowadays, we could either be spot on, or risk greater joblessness, extreme poverty for hundreds of millions and global social unrest.

For a developing country like Sierra Leone, industrial development is an essential driver of sustainable development and poverty reduction. In our newly designed National Industrial Policy we identified particular challenges that we need to overcome in order to facilitate industrial growth. They mostly however belong to a genre of challenges confronting nearly all African economies, and include the immense deficits in the energy, transport and information sectors. We must overcome these deficits to seize the moment and fully situate Africa at the very center of the new industrial revolution.

It has been noted that with rising labor costs, South East Asia may cede competitive advantage to Africa in a number of industrial sectors. To capture this opportunity, Africa must ensure the availability of energy; the continent must mobilize resources and capacities, enhance economic diversification and value addition, job creation and protection of the environment. We must continue to reform our business environment, revamp the educational sector, integrate regional capital and financial systems and the necessary complimentary infrastructural networks. 

The General Assembly has designated 2012 as the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All. With more than 1.4 billion people worldwide having no access to electricity and some 2.5 billion people relying on traditional biomass for cooking and heating, the question of sustainable energy has become more pressing than ever. While the achievement of the energy goals by 2030 requires a concerted effort, we believe that the able stewardship of Director-General Yumkella as Chair of UN-Energy and Co-Chair of the Secretary General’s High-level Group on Sustainable Energy for All will play a critical role in bringing the UN’s support for the transition to an inclusive and sustainable green economy forward.

In Sierra Leone, my government’s Agenda for Change has the provision of reliable, affordable and renewable energy as one of our topmost priorities. My country is a microcosm of the opportunities and challenges facing Africa in the energy sector. We have seven major rivers and several smaller ones flowing throughout the year. Several hydro-energy sites have been identified. We are presently engaging partners for the development of these sites, including the Bumbuna Phase Two, that would produce about 400 megawatts of electricity. Africa’s hydro-electric potential is great, and their development must be integral to any relevant discussion of the continent’s industrialization.

We believe that public private partnerships are vital to the industrial revolution in Africa, and in Sierra Leone we have been developing frameworks, policies and legislation towards this end. One critical challenge however is the lack of feasibility studies and comprehensive data on the many available opportunities. This is something that States should provide as part of their contribution to the public private sector engagement, and the support of UNIDO in this area would be very relevant.

In Sierra Leone as in other part of Africa, attracting investments that deliver real value addition and seeks to partner with local entrepreneurs ensuring technology and knowledge transfer has become mandatory. Sierra Leone’s agribusiness strategy prioritized oil palm and sugar cane production not only because they offered good returns as food and alternative uses as biofuels without risk to our food production needs, but because they offered industrial solutions while enhancing our productive base and GDP growth opportunities. By their very nature neither oil palm nor sugarcane lend themselves well to the export of raw product thus value addition is de facto a prerequisite. Secondly the production process is energy positive as the biomass waste that it produces is utilized for energy production with excess power being available to satisfy grid and off grid demand. The opportunities for direct employment and out grower opportunities are substantial providing good social returns.

However the challenges to attracting investment into such sectors during tough economic times remains significant. Current production technologies require scale production with huge capex demand. This places a huge burden on host countries to make the economics work with fiscal incentives which delay the realization of the promised growth. Our countries therefore require advise and capacities to address the technology constraint with innovative technologies that allow for efficiency to kick in at lower scales of production. This will definitely lower start up and ramp up costs. Smaller scale production will in turn generate a need for aggregators and logistics infrastructure that ensure distribution costs remain competitive.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have some of the largest Iron Ore and Bauxite deposits in the world as well as huge hydro power potential but yet like the rest of West Africa we are importing structural steel products even as we embark on large scale infrastructure development. Surely this anomaly needs to be rectified. Political instability, which conventional wisdom usually puts forward as a major barrier, has been all but eroded with democratic elections in all three countries. The energy problem must now be addressed. Logistics and infrastructure challenges can be resolved through off take contracts with African and Global markets.

So the challenge to UNIDO is how do you work with us to enhance the creation of regionally integrated steel markets that can compete globally. And should you find that you are not fully equipped to meet that need now, how quickly can UNIDO adapt itself to the needs of the client that it wishes to serve in much the same way that African Economies wish to serve global markets?

The sustainability of industrialization also depends on understanding global consumer demand.  Sierra Leone with its neighbours in the Mano River Basin is set to become a major iron ore exporter. But we all know that steel markets are driven by automobiles and construction.  We wish to add value to our ores as a route to our industrialization. Our value addition must however be tied to knowledge about the global drivers of the goods we wish to produce. UNIDO would be very relevant in pooling knowledge about these trends and building capacities for adapting and adopting strategies to seize opportunities and manage risks.

The new industrial revolution is a function of markets and we need to understand these markets. Sierra Leone will require continued support from UNIDO in defining appropriate policies, mobilizing credible partnerships and sequencing critical interventions that will help propel it into an era of sustainable growth and prosperity. 

UNIDO may want to embark with Africa on a journey that finds answers to these questions: How does UNIDO play a role in bringing the African industrialist closer to the final consumer with real market intelligence such as opportunity sizing, critical distribution channels, logistics bottlenecks at the distribution end rather than at the production end? Indeed it is this kind of market intelligence that is driving commodity traders and food processors to upstream their activities potentially at the expense of the emerging African industrialist.

We applaud UNIDO’s work in Sierra Leone ranging from technical advice and practical demonstrations of off-grid renewable energy solutions, which are linked to skills formation and value addition at our community-based Enterprise Growth Centres, to the development of national quality infrastructure to enhance our capacity to compete on the international trade.

Our engagement with UNIDO has increased our belief in its relevance to aspirations. And I wish to use this opportunity to laud the leadership of Director General Yumkella. 

Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by calling on us all to implement the resolutions we have made, and the resolutions we shall be making during this conference. We cannot afford to have too many resolutions that are not implemented, too many commitments that are not honoured, and too many programs that are still on the shelves, and not on the ground where they hold tangible meanings for our people.

Our industrial revolution must be impelled by an implementation imperative. Industrialization is overwhelmingly about bolts and nuts on the ground, it is about electricity flowing through the veins of visible power grids, it is about people really getting and deploying their skills, it is about   people benefitting from the fruits of their country’s endowments.  We need to move quickly to implementation, we need to properly follow-up and carry out a fundamental structural change in order for industrialization to occur.

More importantly, and as matter of urgency, we need to implement our resolutions and programmes relating to building our energy and transport infrastructures; removing administrative barriers to investments, adding value to our resources before export, and getting our regional organizations to take the lead in developing and implementing industrialization frameworks. We must move to the realm of implementation if we are to seize the opportunities and meet the several major challenges that Director-General Yumkella rightly identified as “Global megatrends” in his opening statement at the last session of the General Conference.

The mega trends of food, fuel and financial crises, climate change, ever-rising populations and increasing demand for productive employment opportunities require innovative thinking and actions. The trends require the mega pre-emptions and transformations envisaged in the new industrial revolution. Nothing works better for  sustaining the new industrial revolution than implementing the wisdom filled resolutions of the great conferences and seminars we have held on industrialization, poverty reduction, wealth creation and sustainability.

I thank you for your attention.

Report by Umaru S. Jah – Berlin

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