January 27, 2022

Africa and the challenge of development

Africa and the challenge of development

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

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

The DG said at the presentation that the ITF mobile phone, which was comparable in quality to any other brand of Android phone in the world, was assembled by the ITF Model Skills Training Centre, MSTC, Abuja, as part of the implementation of the vision of the incumbent management of the ITF with particular emphasis on research and development. 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 still linger of similar feeble attempts in the past which ended in shame. There exists also new awareness that this challenge is by no means unique to Nigeria as a country but cuts across Africa. 

The sad reality is that the continent is the second most-populated in the world (1.2 billion people), yet sadly represents only 1.4 per cent of the world 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 facets of technological development and advancement recently came flooding during a conversation with C.N. Oragwu, a former university academic in physics, at his Lagos residence.  Aside from the facts that the conversation leads to the title and partially forms the content of this piece, Oragwu, during the conversation critically highlighted how his new book entitled: Technology and Wealth of Nations, which is set for presentation to the public this month, chronicles the slanted and unsustainable effort different African governments made in the past to bring their nations out of technological woods, as well as outlined the way forward.

There is also another distinction to make. Similar to 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 this ‘strategic 3Cs which form the strategic triangle is a living entity with its own interests and objectives; but must be taken care of by any organisation desirous of survival; likewise, the book is evident with some strategic antidotes that signal solutions to Africa’s hydra-headed and multi faceted technological challenge. A fact that more than anything else qualifies it a most 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 prefers to send aids afterwards?

Of course, the above question, in my view, may not be lacking in merit considering the fact that Africa presently is dotted with projects built with aids from Europe, United States of America, USA, 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 comes to 47 per cent of its total foreign assistance in 2009 alone, and from 2000 to 2012 it funded 1,666 official assistance projects in 51 African countries. Also, the Brookings Institution Aid Data study found that at least 70 per cent of China’s overseas aid was sent to Africa from 2000 to 2014.


Some of these projects includes but not limited to the African Union building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which cost $200 million to build and was handed over in 2012. Recently also, China announced its willingness 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 travelling 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 rail line, largely funded through Chinese loans.

Whatever the true situation may be, I 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 foresighted Africans are in support of the position as conversed by the book. 

In fact, many have at different times and places argued that though Africans may have overtly shown remarkable improvement in their culture and civilisation, the fact that after almost 60 years of independence, African countries continually look up to China for aid, tells a story of a continent lacking in capacity for taking responsibility for its actions and initiatives for values.

On the way out of the continent’s technological debacle and the current wealth disparity among nations (industrial and industrial economies), let’s again cast a glance on what the book is saying. 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 order is primarily the difference in the technical capability and capacity to produce and manufacture modern technologies and to use the technologies to produce and manufacture globally competitive industrial goods and to sustain the commanding tasks of science and technology in the economy.

The disparity it added, has since considerably widened and will continue to widen 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.

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 leadership decision making processes involve judgment about uncertain elements, and differs from the pure mathematical probability process. Find out why Asia after grappling with the problems of unemployment in the region, their leaders came to the conclusion that the only way to survive was to  industrialise.

Finally, Sir Joseph N. 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 certainly an infused lesson policy makers in Nigeria/Africa must draw from the above explanations.

*Utomi, the Programme Coordinator ,Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, Lagos, wrote via: [email protected]

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