Can today’s Africa produce manufactured goods for exports? Can the continent become tomorrow one of the world’s manufacturing hubs and then move on to secure a position as an industrial powerhouse in its own right?
Sawa Shoes started answering these questions since the company opened for business in 2009.The founding idea was to build a brand of fashion sportswear shoes, 100% “made in Africa”, which would be sold in the developed world while retaining value creation on the continent. Hence, the shoes are designed and produced by a workforce of 100 people in Cameroon, West Africa, using raw materials sourced locally as well as from other African countries. The company has experienced rapid growth and its shoes are now available at trendy stores in London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Mission completed, right?
Well, not quite! Enters the endemic corruption in the port of Douala, Cameroon, through which the imported raw material must be cleared. Bribes and endless haggling took their toll: the soaring cost of imports started to threaten the business profitability while permanent, endless haggling destroyed valuable management time.
To avert bankruptcy, Sawa Shoes eventually had to move the manufacturing of its products to Ethiopia. The country provides an environment friendlier to business and benefits from a growing and dynamic industrial base.
That is how jobs, manufacturing and marketing know-how, tax receipts and an embryo of industrial network have been lost for Cameroon.
True, this tragedy took place in a particular country but, frankly speaking, it could have happened in most of our countries.
It clearly demonstrates that corruption is not only a moral and institutional issue. First and foremost, it is an economic scourge that drastically reduces the entrepreneurship drive of the people, the growth rate of the economy, the tax receipts for the government, the provision of jobs by businesses, the accumulation of know-how and the build up of an ecosystem conducive to productivity growth.
How to fight corruption? The task is daunting as corruption looks like a formidable hydra, the heads of which grow again the minute you cut them off. There’s hope however. Africa is not alone in facing the phenomenon and some other places in the world have done what it takes to weed out corruption as an economic problem. If that can be done there, it can also be done here in Africa.