Défis à relever et leçons à tirer

Lors de l’assemblée générale de la Mauritius Information and Technology Industry Association (MITIA), Charles Cartier – Chairperson de l’Economic Development Board (EDB) –, devait évoquer les Special Economic Zones (SEZs) en Afrique. Ces SEZs avaient été lancées par le Mauritius Africa Fund, qui fait désormais partie de l’EDB. Ce qui nous ramène à un rapport de Thomas Farole, Senior Economist de l’International Trade Department au sein de la Banque mondiale. En 2011, il analysait déjà l’importance des SEZ, et de leur utilité, leur succès ou encore leur efficacité. Un autre économiste, Douglas Zhihua Zeng, fait le point sur les défis pour l’Afrique et les leçons à tirer du succès de la Chine



L’Afrique n’est pas le seul continent à avoir recours au développement des Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Shenzhen, petit village de pêche en Chine dans les années 70, est devenu l’exemple même d’une zone économique spéciale à succès. L’histoire peut-elle se répéter en Afrique ? Un rapport de 2011 rédigé par Thomas Farole, Senior Economist de la Banque mondiale laisse quelque peu sceptique. « The African experience with SEZs has not been anywhere near as successful as policy makers hoped it would be », laisse-t-il entendre dans le rapport.

D’ailleurs, ce rapport est le premier à analyser l’expérience africaine avec les SEZs, dont la performance « has been relatively disappointing ». Sachant que Maurice mise sur trois SEZs au Ghana, au Sénégal et à Madagascar (Fort Dauphin), devrions-nous nous inquiéter ? D’ailleurs, en 2016, Holijaona Raboanarijaona, Président d’Emergence Madagascar, déclarait que la réussite de notre Export Processing Zone ne pouvait attester de notre expertise en matière de développement de zone économique spéciale.

Certes, les zones économiques spéciales ont le potentiel de contribuer à l’amélioration de la compétitivité africaine et son intégration à l’économie globale tout en assurant la création d’emplois et l’amélioration du niveau de vie.

Le rapport cite le succès de Maurice, soit plus précisément celui de l’Export Processing Zone, considérée comme une SEZ.

Des échecs dans certains pays

« Anecdotal evidence suggests that success in African zones (even defined narrowly in terms of scope and time) has been limited to a few countries, such as Mauritius, Kenya, Madagascar, and possibly Ghana. In many other countries in the region—including Nigeria, Senegal, Malawi, Namibia, and Mali—zones appear to be struggling for a variety of reasons, including poor location, lack of effective strategic planning and management, and problems of national policy instability and weak governance », lit-on dans le rapport.

L’auteur du rapport indique plus loin : « For countries as diverse as China and Mauritius, special economic zones (SEZs) have been a powerful tool in attracting foreign investment, promoting export-oriented growth, and generating employment. But in some countries they have been expensive failures. As the number of countries adopting and expanding SEZ programs continues to grow rapidly, particularly in developing countries, there is a need to revisit the experiences of SEZs to better understand the factors that contribute to their success or failure ».

Analyses et conclusions

Quelles sont les analyses et conclusions de Thomas Farole par rapport aux Special Economic Zones ?

  • SEZs are difficult to get right – a number of conditions are required for zones to be successful. Unless a country has a significant comparative advantage in labour costs or a large internal market, a number of factors must come together for a zone to be successful in attracting and retaining investment.  These factors include location, policy, planning, legal framework, infrastructure, and management.
  • Despite the perception of zones as enclaves, in practice their success is almost fully intertwined with the national economy, the national investment environment, and the capacity of the government.
  • Zones have not had a catalytic impact in most countries, in part because they have been disconnected from wider economic strategies.  Often, zone programs are put in place and then left to operate on their own, with little effort to support domestic investment into the zone or to promote links, training, and upgrading. Unlocking the potential of a zone requires clear strategic integration of the program, and government must play a leading role in potentiating the impact of the zone.
  • High-level, active, and consistent government commitment to zone programs over a long period is a significant contributor to success—most zones take 5–10 years to begin bearing fruit.
  • In many of the African SEZs, the agency responsible for developing, promoting, and regulating the program lacks resources and capacity to carry out the mandate. Of equal importance, it often lacks the institutional agency to do so. In many successful zone programs, the regulatory agency is often autonomous but anchored to a central ministry (e.g., the president, prime minister, or ministry of finance) and supported by a sustainable budget.  Institutional reforms and capacity building are needed in many zone programs.
  • Almost all the countries under study located at least one zone in a lagging or remote region, but few have done enough to address the infrastructure connectivity, labour skills, and supply access these regions lack. Not surprisingly, FDI shuns these locations in favour of agglomerations where they can access quality infrastructure, deep labour markets, and knowledge spillovers.
  • Despite their weak performance to date, SEZs can still play a valuable role in many African countries. These countries are in need of diversification and either are in the early stages of industrialization or have experienced deindustrialization in recent decades.  To diversify, they need to attract private investment, particularly FDI. By overcoming infrastructure and land constraints and facilitating economies of scale, SEZs offer the potential to leverage trade preferences to attract investment and support diversification if they designed and implemented effectively.


Ce que dit Douglas Zhihua Zeng…

En 2015, un autre économiste de la Banque mondiale, Douglas Zhihua Zeng, a rédigé un rapport sur ‘Global Experiences With Special Economic Zones – With A Focus on China and Africa’. Il devait mentionner le succès de certains pays comme la Chine, Singapour, Maurice, la Malaisie, tout en évoquant le fait que d’autres pays, notamment ceux de l’Afrique subsaharienne, luttent toujours.

« When measuring the African zone programs, it’s important to consider that most African countries are relatively latecomers in implementing modern zone programs and many of these zones are still in the early stages.  The change and rebalancing of the global value chain and industrial structure can possibly provide a good opportunity for these zones», écrit-il.

Les principaux défis en Afrique

Le Senior Economist met en avant plusieurs défis auxquels font face les pays africains dans l’implémentation des SEZs.

·         Legal, regulatory and institutional framework. In many African countries, the current legal, regulatory and institutional framework for SEZs is either outdated or does not exist, even though the SEZ initiative has been launched or, even in some cases, the parks have been built and operational. This is like “putting the cart in front of horse”, which has created a lot of confusion and deterred potential investors. This is quite evident through a review of six zones in Nigeria.

·         Poor business environment. In most Sub-Sahara African countries, the costs of doing business are high due to overall constraining environment in terms of registration, licensing, taxation, trade logistics, customs clearance, foreign exchange, and service delivery.  Many one-stop-shops for investors do not live up to their names.

·         Lack of strategic planning and demand-driven approach. International experience shows that effective zone programs are an integral part of the overall national, regional or municipal development strategy and build on strong demand from business sectors, such as those in Malaysia, China, South Korea, and Mauritius, etc. However, many zone initiatives in Africa are driven by political agenda and lack strong business case.

·         Inadequate infrastructure. This is an overall constraint for all the zones but at different degrees. In general, power, gas, roads, ports, and telecom are the key constraints and many governments and developers try to resort to the PPP approach to solve the constraints. Given the large investments required for the zones, a strong commitment from government and active participation of the private sector is essential.

·         Zone management and operational know-how. Most of the zone developers, including the relevant   government   agencies, do not   have   the   zone   management   and   operational experiences, and many zone developers are only construction companies; therefore, it’s a challenge for them to identify the right partners to provide the critical knowledge and expertise on zone management and operations. This seriously undermines the implementation capacity.

Les leçons de la Chine

Selon Douglas Zhihua Zeng, la Chine représente une des zones économiques les plus réussies. On peut en tirer plusieurs leçons.

·         China leveraged the SEZ as a breakthrough towards a market-oriented growth model in an overall very constraining environment. Given its extreme situation in the early days, China offered generous fiscal incentives besides good infrastructure and efficient public services to lure foreign investors. However, today’s macro-environment is different and many African countries are the destinations of industrial transfer from East Asia. Instead of focusing on tax incentives, they should put more efforts on improving the business environment including infrastructures and consider “smart incentives” that encourage skills training, technology transfer and local economic linkages. 

·         SEZ programs should be part of the national or regional development strategy and based on the most suitable model which depends on the local comparative or competitive advantages.

·         One of the key objective of the zones is to overcome the constraints (both soft and hard) of doing business in an economy. One thing African countries can do differently is that they can attract more private investors through a PPP framework given the limited resources.  China is also increasingly moving towards this direction. 

·         In China, many zones have well-equipped skills training center, which works closely with technical and vocational schools, colleges and universities to provide relevant skills training and technology support for the firms in the zones. Local governments also have talents strategy to attract highly skilled people to work in the zones.

In China, unlike many African countries, most zones are well plugged in the existing local clusters, so the zones and local clusters reinforce each other through business linkages. Chinese zones also encourage foreign investors to establish joint-ventures with local counterparts.

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