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Mixed Success for SEZs in Africa

In Africa, the first SEZ was unveiled in Mauritius in 1970, followed by Ghana and Senegal towards the end of the decade. According to UNCTAD’s Handbook on Special Economic Zones in Africa, by 2020 there were 237 SEZs in Africa in 38 of the continent’s 54 countries. “A systematic overview of African SEZs shows that the use of zones is on a steep upward trend and projected to proliferate in a large majority of countries across the continent,” the report notes. Kenya had the highest number of zones at 61, followed by Nigeria (38), Ethiopia (18), and Egypt (10). The report highlights Ghana, Kenya and Senegal as three countries where SEZs have been successfully implemented. It notes that there is no “one size fits all” model of success and that the likelihood of success of any SEZ strategy in Africa depends not only on learning from best practices, but also on adapting those practices to the specific characteristics of the territory and country where the zone will be located. “Across the whole continent SEZs have been found to underperform even in terms of their more static contributions, such as FDI attraction and job creation. A considerable share of SEZs in Africa remain largely underdeveloped,” the report notes.