Tag Archives: development

Africa Can’t Leapfrog Industrialization without Infrastructure – Harvard Professor

The wide adoption of mobile phones in Africa, along with finance technologies like mobile banking and e-commerce, the use of drones to transport medical supplies,  the dramatic drop in the cost of solar energy and a lot more accomplishments in other sectors like energy, education, health, transportation, and agriculture points to the widespread adoption of new technologies across Africa.

The success of M-Pesa, a cell-phone-based mobile banking application with 30 million users across 10 countries, threatening to disrupt traditional banking systems around the world  has served as an inspiration to young Africans and has created remarkable technological enthusiasm on the continent.

These successes inevitably lead to talk about how Africa is “leapfrogging” more advanced economies. Leapfrogging, in this context, is when countries skip a step in development thanks to rapid innovation—from no phones to smartphones, for example. The mobile phone, in this context, has allowed African countries to avoid the heavy investments required to build fixed-line networks.

But Professor Calestous Juma of of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School, faults this approach  in his recent paperLeapfrogging Progress, The Misplaced Promise of Africa’s Mobile Revolution. He said,

Overall, the mobile revolution has given hope to Africans that they too can be dynamic and innovative players in the global economy, transcending the continent’s current reliance on raw material exports. But while cases such as M-Pesa offer inspiration, the promise of leapfrogging remains largely unfulfilled.

Juma explains that the failure of the mobile revolution going on in Africa to stimulate industrial development in Africa is partly as a result the  assumption that Africa can leap into the service economy without first building basic infrastructure and a manufacturing base,  which he referred to as a faulty narrative.

Juma, a well-respected advocate for the role of entrepreneurship and technological innovation in Africa’s development, says that African policymakers should revisit their respective industrial policies as there is no shortcut to industrial development.

He points out that no advanced economy got where it is today by cutting corners and sidestepping (that is, leapfrogging) industrialization. He reminds us industrialization requires infrastructure and insists that leapfrogging is not the answer:

Infrastructure is both the backbone of the economy and the motherboard of technological innovation. African countries need adequate infrastructure to realize their full potential.

It is not too late for Africa to become a dynamic and entrepreneurial region driven by innovation. It is certainly right to keep its sights set on technological innovation as an essential driver of economic growth, and as the key to moving beyond the vagaries of commodity exports. But such innovation will depend on industrial development — and the infrastructure and technical capacity it enables — that cannot be leapfrogged.

Moving Africa from its current focus on raw material exports, value addition, and consuming technology to becoming a learning economy and technology producer, will require 21st-century industrial policy that supports continuous interactions among government, industry, and academia in open competitive and collaborative innovation ecosystems. Leapfrogging particular technologies, such as landlines, may in some cases be an option. But industrialization itself, and the innovation and development it generates, cannot be skipped over.

​How Africa Led the World in Science and Technology

“When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.”

Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement: the oldest stone tools in the world and evidence for tool production by our hominin ancestors have been found in eastern Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa respectively.

Despite notable African developments in medicine, mathematics, metallurgy and technology in the past, today Africa lags far behind other regions of the world and gives too little or no attention to science and technology.

Let’s take a look at some historic technological achievements in Africa:

Mathematics

Ancient Egyptian mathematicians had a grasp of the principles underlying the Pythagorean theorem. They were able to estimate the area of a circle by subtracting one-ninth from its diameter and squaring the result.

Timbuktu in Mali was a major centre of the sciences. All of the mathematical learning of the Islamic world during the medieval period was available and advanced by Timbuktu scholars: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

The binary numeral system which lead to the development of the digital computer was widely known through Africa before it was known throughout much of the world.

Astronomy

Egyptians were the first to develop a 365-day, 12-month calendar. It was a stellar calendar, created by observing the stars.

Even today, South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometre Array project.

Metallurgy

Iron use, in smelting and forging for tools, appears in West Africa by 1200 BCE, making it one of the first places for the birth of the Iron Age.

Besides being masters in iron, Africans were masters in brass and bronze. Ife in Nigeria, produced life like statues in brass, an artistic tradition beginning in the 13th century.

Benin also in Nigeria mastered bronze during the 16th century, produced portraiture and reliefs in the metal using the lost wax process. They also were a manufacturer of glass and glass beads.

Medicine

The knowledge of inoculating oneself against smallpox seems to have been known to the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast. A slave named Onesimus explained the inoculation procedure to Cotton Mather during the 18th century; he reported to have gotten the knowledge from Africa.

In Djenné, Mali, the mosquito was identified to be the cause of malaria, and the removal of cataracts was a common surgical procedure. Based on Timbuktu manuscripts, the dangers of tobacco smoking were known already to African scholars.

Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned for their healing skills, Herodotus remarked that there was a high degree of specialization among Egyptian physicians, with some treating only the head or the stomach, while others were eye-doctors and dentists.

Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs. Around 800, the first psychiatric hospital in Egypt was built by physicians in Cairo.

Around 1100, the ventilator was invented in Egypt.In 1285, the largest hospital of the Middle Ages and pre-modern era was built in Cairo, Egypt, by Sultan Qalaun al-Mansur.

Tetracycline was being used by Nubians, based on bone remains between 350 AD and 550 AD. The antibiotic was in wide commercial use only in the mid-20th century.

The theory is earthen jars containing grain used for making Nubian beer contained the bacterium streptomycedes, which produced tetracycline. Although Nubians were not aware of tetracycline, they could have noticed people fared better by drinking beer.

Successful Caesarean section was performed by indigenous healers in Kahura, Uganda, as observed by R. W. Felkin in 1879. European travellers in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Uganda and Rwanda) during the 19th century observed Caesarean sections being performed on a regular basis.

The expectant mother was normally anesthetized with banana wine, and herbal mixtures were used to encourage healing. From the well-developed nature of the procedures employed, European observers concluded that they had been employed for some time.

A South African, Max Theiler, developed a vaccine against yellow fever in 1937. The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967.

During the 1960s, South African Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques, in which a sequence of two-dimensional images of crystals taken from different angles are combined to produce three-dimensional images of the target.

Today

The coming of the Europeans to Africa hindered further scientific and technological advancement in Africa.

The continent still has great scientific minds: Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian won the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in femtochemistry, methods that allow the description of change states in femtoseconds or very short seconds; but 40% of African-born scientists live outside Africa because African countries invest too little or nothing in science and technology Research and Development.

Sub-Saharan African countries spent on average a meagre 0.3% of their GDP on Science and Technology in 2007. North African countries spend a comparative 0.4% of GDP on research.

Notably outstripping other African countries, South Africa spends 0.87% of GDP on science and technology research. Although there are many technology parks in the world there is none in Africa.

There are over 500 Science and Technology centres in the world but only two in the whole of Africa. This is how far Africa has fallen in Science and Technology.

Today, Africa is shadow of herself. The continent can hardly even show the remains of her glorious era of scientific and technological advancement, net even science or technology museums to showcase whatever remained.

Africa Must Produce its Own Technology

Such a proposal might sound outlandish while so many people still lack basic necessities like food, clean water and medicine. In the long view of history, however, mathematics and science have served as the foundation of modern society because they underlie every technology – from plumbing to telecommunications, medicine to satellites.

But the continent has another problem. It is largely a consumer rather than a producer of the technologies it needs. If this doesn’t change, Africa will remain dependent and subject to outside control, its economies dominated by others’ exploitation of its natural resources. Africa will never escape from its reliance on international aid until it builds the capacity to develop itself.

Computers, mobile communications, and medical technologies are the modern engines of commerce, prosperity and public health. Africa will remain sidelined in these areas unless it nurtures its own experts, pioneers, and innovators.

Culled from The Conversation