Wanted: Science to solve Africa’s problems

Photo; cbsnews1

Photo; cbsnews1

WESTERN and Asian nations produce scientific and engineered products today because they possess the necessary scientific and technological capabilities. Western and Asian nations were poor for many centuries when they had not acquired scientific capabilities.

Though African nations have been announcing high GDP-growth rates for decades, unemployment and poverty have been increasing in the continent, suggesting that mere GDP-growth does not solve the problems of a people. Nigeria and other African nations must acquire scientific and technological capabilities to solve unemployment, poverty and infrastructural problems.

Following the enslavement of millions of Africans, the Caucasians embarked on an intellectual and psychological war against Africa (Rodney, 1972; and Nzimiro, 1976). The Caucasians had to re-write history to say that the African people had no history before the Europeans discovered the savages who went about naked and lived in caves and on top of trees. They also wrote that the Caucasians enslaved Africans to civilise the African.

More importantly, they succeeded in mentally enslaving the African. They indoctrinated the African to think and do things the way they ought not to. The educated African is indoctrinated to think in a very shallow manner and act without a sense of history. For over five decades, so far, all that Africans have been doing is to recite clichés they do not know their origin and implications.

African nations achieved flag-independence in the late 1950s and began to implement International Technology Transfer (ITT) as a development strategy. African nations would not have thought of ITT if Africans know that the transformation of Western and Asian nations from agricultural into scientific ones took 2000-3000 years. When ITT failed as expected, Western institutions like the World Bank and IMF designed the Structural Adjustment Progammes (SAPs) for African nations to implement as from the early 1980s.

Africans have since been announcing high rate mere GDP-growth or Growth Without Development (GWD) and reciting terms like: Foreign investment especially Direct Foreign Investments(DFIs), private sector, private sector-led development, deregulation, privatization. These terms mean nothing in relation to what Africa needs most today – science.

Science is the knowledge of nature. Technology on the other hand, is the application of the knowledge of nature in solving the problems confronting mankind. Science is to technology what vocabulary and syntax are to a language. That is, science is the building-block for technology. A society must develop many millions of scientists as the platform for technological development. The scientific knowledge possessed by the citizens of a nation and the extent to which the citizens apply science in solving problems are the most important factors that determine the economic and political statuses of a nation in the world today.

The development of scientific skills and industrialization in the West came with the dawn of the scientific age there. The world was transformed more thoroughly in the 20th century alone than in the 70,000 years since mankind first learned to use tools and light fires (Gamarello, 1982). Scientists and technologists were responsible. There are more of them alive today than existed in those previous 70,000 years combined. What is more, the rate of progress is accelerating: the amount of knowledge now available may have tripled at the end of the 20th century.

Our curiosity-driven research in Obafemi Awolowo University showed that the transformation of an artisan/craft economy into an industrialised one is a learning and capability-building process. So, the growth that should be of interest to Nigeria and other African nations is that related to learning – the growth that increases scientific capabilities – the abilities for solving problems, including production. The rate of transformation is determined by the learning rate of a nation. European and Asian nations neglected learning – education and training, for thousands of years. They acquired scientific capabilities slowly through learning-on-the-job. Hence, the transformation from the pre-industrialised to the industrialised status was very slow and took them 2000-3000 years.

Our research in Obafemi Awolowo University also demonstrated that the intrinsic value of the learning person appreciates with learning intensity and learning time. From this fundamental premise, we developed a scientific equation which revealed that five learning-related variables determine the health status of an economy and they ought to guide the planning for industrialization. They are: 1) N – the number of people involved in productive work or employment in a nation; 2) M – the level of education/training of those involved in productive activities in the economy and of the people of the nation; 3) L – the linkages among the knowledge, skills, competences and sectors of an economy; 4) r – the learning rates or intensity in the economy and especially among the workforce; and 5) n – the experience of the workforce and the learning history of the society. All the variables are related to the learning-man and learning-woman. Moreover, the higher are the values of all the variables, the better is the economy.

Britain did not have public educational system when it achieved the first modern Industrial Revolution (IR)(Dent, 1975). The IR came after Britain experienced mass unemployment, low productivity, high inflation, prevalent poverty for about 2000 years. Mere capital investments, including FDIs do not increase the scientific capabilities of an individual or nation.

Our experience is that Nigerians who barely can read and write well get into automobiles, electricians and other workshops to learn under apprenticeship. In 3-4 years, they are able to carry out servicing and repairs which those who do not have similar learning experiences cannot carry out even when they have advanced educational qualifications. The importance of our experience is that learning takes place on-the-job. It is the learning in daily work that transformed the British agricultural/artisan economy into an industrialised one.

What African nations, including Nigeria need today is to emphasise education and training. They must also establish standing frameworks for training youths to acquire scientific capabilities. They should engage all science and engineering graduates in training 4-5 years so that they can acquire scientific skills and build-up manufacturing capabilities speedily.

Also, African nations must adopt full employment policy so that many millions of scientists and engineers can be employed to work and learn on-the-job so as to develop scientific and engineering capabilities. The educated people have to work to develop and apply scientific capabilities. No amounts of capital investments, including Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) or erected infrastructure can transform African artisan-economies into scientific, industrialised and productive ones.

The growth of scientific capabilities goes with increase in the number employed in scientific activities in an economy. Our research in Obafemi Awolowo University suggests that Nigeria, for example, needs to train 15 (fifteen) million university science and engineering graduates 4-5 years to acquire scientific (practical) skills in artisan/craft workshops, factory floor work settings, various factories, farms and all other places where the opportunities for acquiring scientific capabilities abound, for the Nigerian economy to come out of the woods.

• Ogbimi wrote via e-mail: fogbimi@yahoo.com

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