African countries and regional economic communities have started an initiative for the post-Covid manufacturing-lead economic revival of the continent. At a virtual meeting attended by industry and government representatives of Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, (apologies were received from Zambia), the SADC Business Council and the East African Economic Community it was resolved that an ISTMA Africa Forum be formed as part of the International Special Tooling and Machining Association (ISTMA World) to assist with Africa's economic recovery. 

The President of ISTMA, Bob Williamson, welcomed the initiative, which is undertaken with the support of ISTMA World, its global partners and other related bodies. He said the aim of the initiative, which focuses strongly on the tool, die and mould making (TDM) industry, a key subsector of manufacturing, was to increase manufacturing output and create meaningful industrial growth and employment opportunities in Africa, especially in the aftermath of Covid-19. A number of African countries attended the recent ISTMA World 2020 Virtual Global Assembly for the first time as observers as an exploratory step towards the creation of ISTMA Africa Forum. 

The establishment of the ISTMA Africa Forum is facilitated by the Production Technologies Association of South Africa (PtSA), the only current African member of ISTMA, with the assistance of its industry development partner, the INSTIMBI Future Production Technologies Initiative (FPTI). The regional and continental efforts to establish the ISTMA Africa Forum is spearheaded by Tapiwa Samanga, a passionate industrial development expert. Mr Samanga is currently the CEO of the National Technologies Implementation Platform, a board member of PtSA and a former Chief Director for Industrial Development and Trade at the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 

Samanga says African countries and economic communities will benefit significantly from the global ISTMA partnership. African role-players are very excited about the prospect of creating linkages and participating in the ISTMA World Congress in China next year June 2021. "We should have a solid ISTMA Africa structure in place by the end of this year and we should see the first activities by early 2021" says Samanga. 

The meeting amongst the African countries and economic development forums was convened to raise awareness on the importance of the TDM subsector for Africa to increase its manufacturing output, to create regional and continental platforms for collaboration and to develop a shared agenda/action plan to enhance the manufacturing sector in Africa. The meeting resolved that in addition to the formation of the ISTMA Africa Forum before the end of 2020 a task team involving Regional Economic Community (REC) officials and Business Councils should be formed. The initial team will include the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) whilst contacts are sought from the other RECs on the continent to pursue the proposed outcomes. Increased inter-association and inter-firm collaboration in the TDM sector will be promoted and country associations will be encouraged to collaborate to form regional and continental TDM platforms which will then join global groupings such as ISTMA World.

Samanga says the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the vulnerability of the African continent to disasters of any nature. Africa was unable to produce sanitisers of the globally accepted chemical standards, masks of the correct functional quality and let alone complicated equipment like ventilators in a very short space of time. African supply chains are problematic – the continent is dependent on other countries like India and China but when Covid struck the world closed down. It took quite a while, and at great cost, to mobilise the import of personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitisers and ventilators. Africa does not have systems in place that can quickly certify products such as the alcohol content of sanitisers or mask types. The continent has limited innovation capacity and it took a while for Africa to respond to the industrial challenges of Covid-19. There was a total lack of coordination and synergy and a lack of insight into the responsive capacity of the continent. The lack of functional relationships with producers around the world to innovatively move capacity e.g. from beer brewing to producing sanitiser or the automotive industry to start making ventilators underline the serious shortcomings of the African production industries. "Africa therefore needs to urgently come up with new strategies to protect not only its people but also its economies" says Samanga.

Samanga points out that African markets are underdeveloped and disjointed. "No country in Africa boasts production independence like China or America and the continent therefore needs to work together as regions and a continent rather than individual countries to create larger markets. We need, for example, to develop Southern Africa or SADC as a region because the 350 million people in the region present a significant market. We have to create production centres and capacities by taking away borders and trade barriers. Covid 19 taught us that we need to create an integrated regional economic infrastructure" says Samanga.

He emphasized that while China an America are fighting a trade war and more and more countries start to isolate themselves African countries need to break down walls. "The Africa Continental Free Trade Area represents an important step forward as it will serve as a vehicle or platform to create business opportunities across the region. It is therefore imperative for African governments and trade communities to look at a post-Covid scenario where the walls will have to come down and Africa starts to create a very functional integrated regional economy. This should serve as a framework to build capacity and develop skills. Africa needs to create an osmotic relationship between countries and regions. The capacity and experience, for example that the South African INTSIMBI FPTI has developed over the past 15 years with the development of its world-class and globally recognised TDM Powered Skills and Enterprise Development Programme for the manufacturing industry should be applied for the collective benefit of Africa. It is pleasing that the South African government has agreed to freely share this experience."

Samanga says it is imperative that the economic recovery in Africa is led by the manufacturing industry. "We need to get our factories working again – we have to start producing. The Covid pandemic showed where Africa's shortcomings are – that there is no capacity to produce. The continent needs to reflect now on how it can best build sustainable and agile productive capacity. It is clear that the only place where this capacity can be built is in manufacturing. We need to create a productive industry operating at a high rate of productivity in Africa. We have to become aware of how the factories of the future will look like and familiarise ourselves with the advanced digital technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution. We need to get systems in place, bring back the manufacturing capacity that we outsource to India and China and look at collaborative relationships to attract investment in Africa. We need to create centres of production and manufacturing across the region. We need to create links to quickly develop the basic manufacturing skills, systems and platforms.

Manufacturing and technology will have to take the lead to kick-start the Post-Covid economic renaissance in Africa. Global linkages and relationships such as the ISTMA Africa Forum will be key to the success of this new continental venture."