Techno-Africa: Shaping the New African
'Our continent certainly exceeds all the others in potential hydroelectric power, which some experts assess as 42% of the world's total. What need is there for us to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water for the industrialised areas of the world?' -Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
I open this piece with a quote from the African of the millennium, Dr Kwame Nkrumah. HIs question asked to representatives of African countries in 1963 remains as valid and pertinent, just as it was some 50years ago. Africa still remains the 'hewers of wood and the drawers of water' for the rest of the world. Now not just the western industrialised countries, but now the eastern magnates who have joined the elite. Why have we failed to rise above this not be hewers and drawers anymore? Why aren't we at least doing this labour for our own benefits? The answers are many, but a critical one which we often fail to address is one of science and technological innovation. No country ever developed with manipulating the resources available to it to suit it needs.
We can trace it all the way back to our prehistoric ancestors to our modern day man. The surviving and thriving group is one that creates tools and designs them to suit their particular needs. Africa has failed in this respect. We only grow and extract nothing more complex than that. We rely on our primary production without infusing any home grown technology into it. We delight in announcing what amounts of natural resources we have available to us , however how many people walk around wearing gold ore, or buy cocoa beans for their loved ones during festivities?
Attempts have been made to introduce technology into everyday African lives. These technologies are imported from the west and now the east and put into mainstream African lives. Not only do these fail but often create a problem bigger than what they came to solve. Does this prove that technology and innovation us bad for Africa? No! It simply means we have gone about it the wrong way. Recently I listened to an inspiring African woman, Dr Josephine Ojiambo, The UNFPA chief of the executive and external relation board, and Former Kenyan Ambassador to the UN, make a submission on technology. Of all the many incredible points she pointed out, one stuck with me. She said that technology is only successful when the users, become the makers and shapers. What does this mean? Simply this, Africa cannot expect the west and west to create technology suited for us. We have unique situations and circumstances different from theirs. We hold the key to our technological woes; another case for African solutions for African problems.
To achieve this we need to raise a whole generation of young people with not just the creative ability and technical know-how to innovate, but also provide the right environment to encourage such innovation. Consistent power supply, interest from government and private financial institutions, technological education from early ages and sharing of information and research by tertiary institutions are amongst some of the many things that are necessary to create this environment. If a country is able to allocate millions of dollars to the wages of parliamentarians, I see no reason why a few hundreds of thousands cannot be set aside for work in science and technology.
Africa is tremendously blessed not to have to start from scratch. We have the benefits of the models and routes of both the western giants and the Asian tigers. The African lion needs only improve upon what has already been done and tailor suit it to our desserts and savannahs and swamps and forests. Creating that generation of innovators must start now if we hope to catch up anytime soon. Future generations will hold us all accountable for the decisions we take today.
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