Productivity and its evolution over time are the main drivers of a country’s economic growth, its international competitiveness, the profitability of its businesses and the standard of living of its citizens. It is therefore a fundamental indicator useful to governments and companies alike.
A high productivity reflects the ability to produce more with the same resources or to produce the same amount with less input. Africa struggling with a severe case of scarcity of resources, it would seem logical that increasing productivity be a top priority there.
Alas, in sub-Sahara Africa, productivity seems not to fit into the economic policy agenda. At the macro-economic level, the data is not or badly captured in national statistics. At company level, barring the subsidiaries of foreign multinationals and a handful of African multinational firms, productivity is not a management lever in most cases. At the consumer level, nobody objects to spending a week to achieve what is done in a day elsewhere.
The available data clearly shows that our economies operate at productivity levels far below those of other developing regions. The implication is far reaching: failing a change in attitude and behaviour, African companies will continue to cede ground on their domestic markets, export opportunities will remain out of their reach and the gap in standards of living between Africa and the rest of the world will persist.
The onus for improving productivity in African economies rests on business executives. They can meet this challenge but that will require an immediate awareness of the stakes involved, followed by swift action to measure then improve the productivity of their firms on a continuous basis. It will also require that attention be paid both to the productivity of the equipments and that of all the processes used, including the white collar work processes. In the end, improved profitability and / or market share will reward the effort.
To sustain this dynamics, governments play a critical role. By taking bold measures to reverse declining education standards in public schools; by investing into power infrastructures and those infrastructure that facilitate the movements of goods, services and knowledge; by elaborating indicators relevant to the implementation of effective productivity policies, governments will create the type of environment businesses need to make progress.
Sub-Sahara Africa will join the bandwagon of emerging economies only if she takes determined action on her productivity.
(1) United Nations 2010 Millennium Development Goals Report.