OPINION: AFRICA AND THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPMENT

Buhari
Director-General of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Sir Joseph Ari, officially presented the ITF Mobile Android GSM smart phone to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja

It is no longer news that the Director-General of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Sir Joseph Ari, officially presented the ITF Mobile Android GSM smart phone to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

During the presentation, the DG said the ITF mobile phone, which he described as comparable in quality to any other brand of android phone in the world, was assembled by the ITF Model Skills Training Centre (MSTC) in Abuja, as part of the implementation of the vision of the incumbent management of the Fund, with particular emphasis on research and development.

According to Ari, the phone was produced with 100 percent locally sourced material. It is proof that given the enabling environment and opportunities, Nigerians will unleash their creative potentials.

Definitely a cheerful development, but such joy easily gets abbreviated when one remembers that the shadows of similar attempts in the past, which ended in shame, still linger.

There also exists a new awareness that this challenge is by no means unique to Nigeria as a country but cuts across Africa. Ringing apprehension is the fact that the continent is the second most-populated in the world (1.2 billion people), yet, sadly represents only 1.4 percent of the global manufacturing value added in the first quarter of 2020. This is further exacerbated by the fact that out of over 51 countries in Africa, only South Africa qualified as a member of BRICS, an acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

This worrying concern about how off track Africa has gone in all the facets  of technological development and advancement came flooding recently during a conversation with C.N Oragwu, an erstwhile university lecturer, at his Lagos residence.

Apart from the facts that the conversation stems from the title and partially formed the content of this piece, he (the host) during the conversation critically highlighted how his new book entitled, ‘Technology and Wealth of Nations’, which is set for presentation to the public, chronicled the slanted and unsustainable efforts that different African governments made in the past to bring their nations out of the technological woods, as well as outlined the way forward.

There is also another distinction to make.  Similar to the construction of any business strategy, where it is acknowledged that three main players must be taken into account, the corporation itself, the customers and the competition, as each of the ‘strategic 3C’s which form the strategic triangle, is a living entity with its own interests and objectives. But it must be taken care of by any organisation desirous of survival. Likewise, the book is evident with some strategic antidotes that signals solutions to Africa’s hydra-headed and multi faceted technological challenge. A fact that more than anything else qualifies it as a must read for policy makers in Nigeria and Africa as a continent.

The above is not the only explanation as he went ahead to make further distinction. Separate from thoughtfully and masterfully examining the inspiring relationship between technological development and economic progress of nations, the book deftly argues with facts that the point of sail of all economies is the introduction of the manufacturing sector or the industrial economy. He establishes that Africa’s prolonged economic plight is centered on the two fundamental challenges of a manufacturing economy. It traces Africa’s economic backwardness to its roots – a key problem that has kept our policy makers handicapped and our economies crippled. With documented facts on the institutionalised crippling policies and organised sequences of stagnating events of the colonial masters, the author asks; ‘Why is it that Europe, which hosted the industrial revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries, did not permit technological education in Africa in about 50 years of colonisation and preferred to send aids afterwards?’

Of course, the above question in my view may not be lacking in merit, considering the fact that Africa is littered with projects built with foreign aids from Europe, the United States of America  and lately, China.

For a better understanding of this piece, let’s take a look at the Chinese development aid to Africa.

Going by reports, Chinese development aid to Africa totalled 47 percent of its total foreign assistance in 2009 alone. Between 2000 and 2012 it funded 1,666 official assistance projects in 51 African countries. Also, the Brookings Institution Aid Data study found that at least 70 percent of China’s overseas aid was sent to Africa between 2000 and 2014.

Some of these projects include but are not limited to the African Union building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which cost $200 million and was handed over in 2012. Also, China recently announced that it was willing to give the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a $31.6 million grant to build a new headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. China’s scarves have found their largest African market in Egypt, which imported supplies worth $45 million in 2014. The nations also have a healthy exchange of carpets, with multi-million dollar supplies traveling in both directions.

Dozens of African hospitals have been built with Chinese funds in recent years. China’s largest commitments in Africa are to infrastructure projects, such as Nigeria’s $8.3 billion Lagos-Kano railway line, largely funded through Chinese loans.

Whatever the true situation may be, I believed and still believe that there exists something troubling technologically that characterises Africa more as a dark continent. More so, looking at the current happenings and commentaries within the continent, it is obvious that fair-minded and well-foresighted Africans are in support of the position as canvassed by the book. In fact, many have at different times and places argued that although Africans may have overtly shown remarkable improvement in their culture and civilisation, African countries still look up to China for aid and this covertly tells the story of a continent lacking the capacity for taking responsibility for its actions and initiatives or values.

On the way out of the continent’s technological debacle and the current disparity in wealth among nations (industrial and industrial economies), let us again cast a glance on what the book is saying.

It(the book) argues that the current wealth disparity among nations (industrial and industrial economies) represented by highly industrialised Europe, North America and Japan on one hand and most developing (non-industrial economies) countries, in particular, those in sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, is primarily the difference in the technical capability and capacity to produce and manufacture modern technologies and to use the technologies to produce globally competitive industrial goods, as well as to sustain the commanding tasks of science and technology in the economy

The disparity it added, has since considerably widened and will continue to do so as long as the developing countries depend almost totally on industrial nations for the technologies and industrial inputs they need to sustain their economies. Consequently, the only way to bridge the wealth gap is for the developing countries of the world to build their domestic endogenous capabilities and capacities to produce modern technologies and competitive industrial goods in their own economies. He concluded.

Catalysing the process will again necessitate African leaders borrowing from Asian tigers in order to raise Africa’s industrial soul. They need to analyse and understand the essential ingredients of foresight in leadership and draw a lesson on how decision making processes involve judgment about uncertain elements, and differs from the pure mathematical probability process.

Find out why Asian countries, after grappling with the problems of unemployment in the region, came to the conclusion that the only way to survive was to industrialise.

Finally, Sir Joseph Ari, may be right in his claim that, in terms of quality and performance, our phone is comparable or even superior to most Android phones currently in our markets. However, it is important to underline that for us to succeed, there are lessons that policy makers in Nigeria and Africa must draw from the above explanation.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy) of the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA) in Lagos