Ethiopia

Wages, Productivity and Manufacturing in East Africa

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This article first appeared in my weekly column in the Business Daily on July 17, 2016


Africa, East Africa in particular, is gearing up for industrialisation and will continue to position itself as the next and last manufacturing frontier in the world. Wages in Asia continue to rise and in China’s coastal factories noteable increases in wages have occurred over the past 10 years making the country a less attractive manufacturing hub. As a result, factories may relocate and although some may move to inland China, Bangladesh or Cambodia, Africa has appeared on the radar as a viable option.

The World Bank reports that Ethiopian factory wages for unskilled labour are a quarter of Chinese wages. Indeed, East Africa in general is increasingly becoming a focus of attention for the development of manufacturing in Africa; interest in textile and apparel is particularly high. A report by McKinsey makes the point that within sub-Saharan Africa, East African countries, especially Ethiopia and Kenya, are of interest to international apparel buyers. Indeed, for the first time an Africa country, Ethiopia, appeared on the list of countries expected to play more important roles in apparel manufacturing. Kenya and Ethiopia were the top two countries in Africa where global apparel buyers expect to start or increase apparel sourcing. The popular view is that Ethiopia is seen as particularly attractive due to lower labour costs but Kenya is considered to have higher labour productivity. These two factors, namely labour cost and labour productivity, will come under increasing scrutiny if Kenya, and the region, is to effectively position itself as a global manufacturing hub.

https://i2.wp.com/www.fashionatingworld.com/images/kenya.jpg (source: http://www.fashionatingworld.com/images/kenya.jpg)

If one were to look at these two elements in Kenya an interesting picture emerges. According to the Kenya Country Economic Memorandum 2016 by the World Bank, Kenya has a higher minimum wage than other countries assessed including India, Pakistan, Uganda, Vietnam Bangladesh and Cambodia. The McKinsey report makes the point that manufacturers listed wages as a key challenge of doing business in Kenya where monthly wages for garment workers are in the $120 to $150 range. So selling the cheap labour story in Kenya is a tough sell if sustained interest in manufacturing, especially labour intense manufacturing such as textiles, is to be maintained.

The other angle Kenya would have to push to stand out from the East African crowd would have to be productivity. Here the story is mixed; in June this year a World Bank revealed that Kenyan workers are less productive than their counterparts in Uganda and Ethiopia. However, this is informed by the fact that almost 80 percent of Kenyans are employed in the informal sector which suffers from particularly low levels of productivity. Low productivity in the informal sector dragged the productivity average down. Indeed the World Bank reports stated that labour productivity in Kenya is significantly higher in the formal than in the informal sector. In fact a World Bank study released this year found that even when formal micro-enterprises are compared to informal enterprises labour productivity for micro firms is about 8.4 times that of informal firms surveyed Thus Kenya is in a situation where most people in the informal sector have very low levels productivity juxtaposed with pockets of people with formal jobs who have high levels of productivity. So key questions are: If Kenya is position itself as a manufacturing hub, will formal manufacturers be the only attractive option due to high levels of productivity? What does this mean for job creation in a country with high levels of unemployment? Other questions include: What in formal employment makes Kenyans more productive? How can labour in the informal sector (including informal industry) be made more productive? And is formalisation the only answer?

https://i1.wp.com/www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/1237146/medRes/295299/-/maxw/600/-/2fg1i1/-/informal+sector.jpg

(source: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/1237146/medRes/295299/-/maxw/600/-/2fg1i1/-/informal+sector.jpg)

The point remains however that on average, wage and productivity dynamics in Ethiopia and Uganda are better than Kenya’s. Some argue that comparing Kenya with Uganda and Ethiopia is not useful because conditions differ so greatly between the countries. Kenya is a democracy while Ethiopia and Uganda lean more towards autocratic rule. From an investor and business environment perspective each governing model has its pros and cons.

In short, in order to position itself as an attractive manufacturing destination, Kenya will have to address the issues raised by wage and productivity analyses, while continuing to work on structural constraints such as access to finance, electricity, transport infrastructure and ICT networks.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

Manufacturing in Africa is growing faster than assumed

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on May 1, 2016


Last week the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) published an interesting paper on export-based manufacturing potential in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The report states that contrary to the common view, production, employment, trade and foreign direct investment in the manufacturing sectors has actually increased over the past decade in SSA. Between 2005 and 2014, manufacturing production more than doubled from $73 billion to $157 billion, growing 3.5% annually in real terms; some are higher with Uganda’s manufacturing growing by 5% over 2010-2014, Zambia’s by 6% over 2008-2012; and Tanzania’s by more than 7% in the last decade. Further, SSA countries are increasingly exporting manufactures to each other (20% of total trade in 2005, 34% in 2014), and a great deal of FDI into manufacturing is among and between African countries.

The report states that there are exceptional manufacturing opportunities in garments and textiles, agro-processing and horticulture, automobiles and consumer goods. However, the share of manufacturing in total employment fell from 10% in 1991 to 8.5% in 2013. This is important to note because although manufacturing is growing, the employment creation ability of the sector seems more muted than it used to be. Perhaps factors such as the growing role of technology in manufacturing is important and may reflect the gradual technological deepening in African manufacturing exports over the past decade.

https://i1.wp.com/www.fashionatingworld.com/images/Textile-industry-Africa.jpg

(source: http://www.fashionatingworld.com/images/Textile-industry-Africa.jpg)

The report is very sober in noting the reality that Africa’s (all Africa, not just SSA) share in total world manufacturing exports remains less than 1%, and this has fallen marginally since 2010. Yet the good news is that between 2005 and 2014 exports from Africa as a whole (not just SSA) grew at an average annual rate of 10% or higher in the product groups analysed.

In terms of insights on Kenya, Kenya’s share of manufacturing exports is higher than that of Ethiopia and Rwanda. Further, the intra-African trade share in Kenya was high at 67.5 percent in 2013. But, as the report notes, this figure ought to be considered in the reality that the coastal countries with large ports, such as Kenya, facilitate import and export trade in the region pushing trade numbers up. Top manufacture products from Kenya include apparel, clothing and accessories; perfume, cosmetics and cleansers; iron and steel, and inorganic chemicals. However, compared to the peers in the report, Kenya has a lower share of domestic value-added (DVA)  content of gross exports as a share of total exported value added with DVA standing at a lower than average 62 percent. The most promising sectors in manufacturing in Kenya detailed in the report, in terms of revealed comparative advantage, include automatic typewriters and word-processing machines, self-adhesive paper and paperboard, hair-nets, safety pins of iron or steel, carbonates, flat-rolled products of iron or non-alloy steel, and leather.

As ODI’s Dirk Willem te Velde states, industrial development is crucial for human development and leads to wealth creation, economy-wide productivity change, greater incomes, significant job creation and resilience throughout the economy. As a development economist, there are two keen points of interest for me in terms of informally assessing the development potential of manufacturing. First, is the extent to which manufacturing can absorb low skilled labour given that Kenya’s population’s average years of schooling is 6.5 years. The second issue is the employment creation potential of manufacturing. For too long Africa has been seen to support the jobless growth phenomena where the economy is growing but formal job creation is lacklustre.

(source: http://www.greenconduct.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/jobless.jpg)

The report provides some insight on these issues by looking at Tanzania. The highest low-skilled employment potential in Tanzania is in agricultural products; this good news given the importance of agriculture to countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. In terms of employment potential, for Tanzania, agriculture comes out on top again. Agricultural products such as high-value vegetables and fruits, processed grains, processed meat, wood products and leather have high employment potential. Thus, the good news is that it is possible for agriculture, a dominant player in African economies, to be best placed to absorb low skilled labour and have high employment potential. This should provide impetus for Kenya to do a similar type of analysis and closely examine the important role agro-processing can have in reaping development dividends for the country. But bear in mind that the issues of high wages is an overall constraint for the sector. Labour costs in SSA are generally higher (when measured relative to GDP per capita) than in low-and middle-income comparator countries in Asia and Latin America.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; email: anzetsew@gmail.com

The expense of the SGR and related implications

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on November 29, 2015.

It is now well known that the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is being developed under the leadership of the Kenyan government and will connect Mombasa to Malaba (with a branch line to Kisumu) onward to Kampala, Kigali (with a branch line to Kasese) and Juba (with a branch line to Pakwach). What is also well known is that Ethiopia is developing Ethiopia Rail (ER) which will link Addis Ababa to Djibouti. The importance of the SGR to Kenya is, yes, the potential dividend that will arise from bolstering infrastructure in the country; indeed the government expects the project to reduce freight costs from $0.20 per tn/km to $0.08 per tn/km. But importance also lies in the fact that the SGR is expensive. Indeed, last week Treasury made the point that the SGR has caused an upwards revision of the fiscal deficit from the initial 7.4% of GDP to 12.2%.

(source: http://i2.wp.com/nairobiwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/sgr2.jpg?resize=1121%2C682)

So is the approach towards the construction of the SGR the most cost effective possible? A comparison with the ER would be useful. As early as 2013, experts raised questions about the costing of Kenya’s SGR; Kenya is being charged $6.6 million per kilometer compared to $4.9 million per kilometre for Ethiopia’s ER. This is particularly a concern because, as experts have pointed out, there are no major rivers or lakes or big hills to justify the high cost of the SGR. In addition, parts of the ER will be a double track, not a single track as the SGR will be in its entirety. The SGR freight will have an average speed of 80KPH while the ER will go up to 120KPH; experts state that it is doubtful those speeds will be reached by the SGR because it is a single track and stoppages will be needed to allow other trains to pass. The SGR passenger train will have an average speed of 120 KPH while the ER will have an average speed of 160 KPH with future provision for 225KPH. Questions also arise because Kenya is spending more to buy its trains and rolling stock than Ethiopia. Why?

Ethiopia has also been smarter with regards to reaping human development dividends from rail construction, specifically the Light Rail Transit System (LRT). Ethiopia has been using the development of the LRT to build domestic technical capacity. Reports indicate that foreign contractors conduct training for local staff at the Institute of Technology in Addis Ababa University. Further, the Ethiopian government is sending promising undergraduates to Russia, India and China to continue their education. Indeed, the Ethiopian government is doing all it can to ensure that the all other rail network projects including ER will be carried out by Ethiopian enterprises. Are there such plans and activities going on with regards to Kenya’s SGR?

(source: http://www.hgomezgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/techtransfer_620.jpg)

The basic sense one gets when comparing Kenya and Ethiopia is that the latter has been able to get a better deal overall and is leveraging all experience to build domestic capacity and reduce future dependence on external contractors for rail construction. Kenya on the other hand has agreed to a plan that appears to not be the most cost effective and there have been no plans announced indicating intentions by the Kenyan government to use SGR construction to build domestic capacity. I have long argued that if Kenya does not leverage all infrastructure development projects to build domestic technical capacity, Kenya will be relegated to eternal dependence on others to do the basics of building infrastructure of the country. The prudence of such a strategy is questionable. Kenya is in a position to learn from Ethiopia; pressure ought to be applied to ensure such learning happens.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; email: anzetsew@gmail.com

The race for Regional Hub status in Eastern Africa

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