A quarter of a century after independence, few would dispute that African industry is in crisis. In a recent survey of 343 factories in over 16 African countries, spanning sectors as diverse as beverages, textiles, pulp and paper, flour milling, sugar refining and cement, fully 23 percent of the companies were found to have ceased production by mid-1980 and a further 57 percent were functioning at less than 70 percent of nominal capacity—well below their break-even point (Inst. de l'Entreprise, 1985: 16). No African country has been spared, including those that, like the Ivory Coast, had been regarded as economic miracles in the first two post-independence decades.
From both the left and the right have thus come serious questions about the net contribution that industry has made to development in sub-Saharan Africa. The architects of Africa's industrialization process—multinational firms, states and foreign aid agencies— have also come under attack. But if the critiques have been rich, they have generated surprisingly little new data and few innovative prescriptions. Policy initiatives thus flow mainly from a single source, the international lending community, and within it, from the IMF and the World Bank, which have become its guiding spirits.
Two features are common to their proposals (Bernstein, 1986; Loxley, 1984; Marsden and Belot, 1987; World Bank, 1981, 1984, 1987). One is an implicit movement away from industry and towards agriculture through the implementation of policies to liberalize tariffs, reduce the role of the state, “get prices right,” and encourage exports. The other is an explicit move towards the rehabilitation of African industry within existing structures, thus tacitly accepting the particular paradigm that has given to African industry its current form and fragility.