Can Special Economic Zones drive growth in urbanising Africa?

As urban population growth in Africa continues to surge, so too does unemployment, informality and the growing bulge of disgruntled youth. A staggering two-thirds of the investments in urban infrastructure required to support these populations by 2050, are yet to be made, or $93 billion per year. Special Economic Zones, or SEZ’s, have become a popular instrument to try and alleviate some of this backlog and achieve certain developmental ends. Within otherwise fragile economic areas in particular, they can provide a spatially concentrated productive area, with the adequate infrastructure, human capital, suppliers and low regulation that investors seek. 

Given their potential to attract investment, SEZ’s are often used as a tool to uplift area’s that are lagging economically and are thus often focussed away from major urban centres. However, evidence suggests that this approach may be limiting large spill over benefits that occur when a city’s existing momentum is harnessed to create deep linkages between SEZ’s and the rest of the economy. Cities at their core are about the density and connectivity of people, who are able to share ideas and resources. They are able to provide what SEZ’s need: skilled and specialised labour, a wide variety of suppliers, and connectivity to national and global markets. Furthermore, rapid urbanisation means cities are our future, and we need them to be able to provide for our growing populations.

In this panel discussion, the IGC and Wits university bring together academic and policy experts to discuss whether allocating spatially concentrated areas in our cities to SEZ’s can contribute meaningfully to the creation of economic growth and jobs. Does the geographic placement of SEZ’s affect their linkages to the rest of the economy? Can they help to overcome the lack of industrialisation in many African cities to date? And further, could they even pose a solution to addressing the spatial inequalities that so prominently continue to reinforce social divides?

You can register to attend the event here.

When: 17:30 – 19:00 (SAST), Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Where: Wits University, Bert Wessels Lecture Theatre 2 (BWLT2), Albert Wessels Building, First Floor

2 St Davids Place, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2193

The event is organised in partnership with: