Why African countries need to embrace science vigorously

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lets start with a few facts: First, all developed countries are advanced in technology. Second, science and mathematics are cornerstones of modern technology.
Third, there can not be industrialization without advancing in technology.

Africa, is the 'poorest' continent in the world. This is despite the fact that the continent is rich in natural resources like minerals, cultivable land, massive fresh water bodies, a mostly tropic climate etc. What lacks is the means to transform these resources into products that can be used by her people. According to the International Technology Education Association, technology is defined as "how people modify the natural world to suit their own purposes". Based on this definition, we can see that technology enables human beings to transform natural resources into products that can enhance their lives. Imagine a car, a ubiquitous example of products of technology. A car is mostly made from metal. And we know that metals are extracted from minerals which are natural resources. But what do we see? Each continent except Africa has produced its own car models but Africa as a continent is yet to produce its own car model. America has Ford, Jeep etc. Europe has Mercedes Benz, Land Rover, Fiat etc. Asia has Tata (from the Indians), Hyundai (Koreans), GWM (from the Chinese), Toyota and Mitsubishi (from the Japanese). Just to mention a few! Is something wrong with us in the African continent?

Let us take the example of the Japanese. In 1910, Japan was a very poor country. After their defeat in World War II, the Japanese concentrated on nation reconstruction through a process of industrialization. With few natural natural resources at their disposal, the Japanese borrowed technology from the industrialized Western countries and indeed later own developed their own technolgies to become one of the most industrialized countries by 1970. The Japanese have remained prosperous ever since. They are no longer scorned as the "little Japs". What do we also see from the new economic giant China? By importing natural resources from resource rich areas like African countries, China is becoming one of the leading countries in terms of economic growth through a process of rapid industrialization.

Is it a coincidence that the Japanese (and indeed all developed countries) are also advanced in science and mathematics? I do not think so. It is a fact that one cannot develop any modern technologies without any deeper scientific understanding. Science can be practical or theoretical. All are very necessary for development of modern technology. For example, the Internet which has revolutionized modern communication has its origins from the scientific community. It is therefore my opinion, that the youth in all African countries should at all cost be encouraged to pursue subjects in Science and Mathematics. I hope I am not being misunderstood as condemning or looking down on other disciplines.

Can solar technologies help in generating
electricity in most African countries?

Yes, Africa at large has a very sad history of exploitation in form of slavery and colonialism. But we need to challenge our status quo and look up to the future with hope so that one day we shall graduate from the state of being a continent with a begging bowl. We need not to dwell in the past but rather look ahead.

To finish this post, I will give an example of Malawi. In the past year or so, vast deposits of uranium and other minerals have been discovered in Malawi and are in the process of being exploited. But what do we see? The uranium mined will be exported to developed countries for nuclear power generation. Yet, Malawi currently struggles to meet its energy demands. Its hydro-electric power stations (Nkula, Kapichira and Wovwe) can not produce enough electricity. With the energy demand in the whole of Southern Africa, Malawi could have also found potential to export energy generated from nuclear power to neighbouring countries. But, clearly Malawi does not have the technological know-how of nuclear power generation, nor does she have the financial capital to build a nuclear power station.

This post was inspired by my readings of the book entitled "The Struggle for Economic Development: Readings in Problems and Policies", edited by Michael P. Todaro and published by Longman.


Empowering the world's poorest

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Often times, the gap between the rich and the poor in this world haunts my thoughts. A mere thought that someone is going on an empty stomach while others are throwing away food, leaves me with more questions than answers. The need for social justice for the world's poorest people sometimes overwhelms me. With the current global food crisis, it is the poorest of this world that are the most vulnerable.

In my free time, I normally like reading books from other fields other than science. Of late, I have been reading a book entitled "When Aid is No Help: How Projects Fail, and How They Could Succeed" by John Madeley and others, published by Intermediate Technology Publications in 1991. Although the book was published in 1991, it seems to be very applicable even now in 2008.

Basically, the book is about how aid from developed countries to developing countries often does not reach the intended poorest people in target countries. Often times, it is the poor who are better off that benefit leaving out the poorest. I hope you get this "paradox". I believe that most aid programmes are intended to lift the poorest of this world so that at least they should be uplifted from abject poverty. Normally, aid programmes are executed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the governments in those target countries. In Malawi, my home country, there are many NGOs that are doing a commendable job in complementing government efforts in trying to alleviate poverty. The current government of Malawi under President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika and his visionary team in the likes of Dr Goodall Gondwe (the Finance Minister) and others, have managed to reach the poorest through a successful fertilizer subsidy program, that has seen Malawi registering surplus harvests since 2006. The goodness is that it is the peasant farmers themselves that are producing the food for their households instead of receiving food aid.

In the book I am reading, the authors list some guidelines which aid projects targeting the poor should follow in order not to miss out the poorest. The following guidelines caught my attention:

  1. Many projects do not reach the poorest because of failure to investigate and understand how they live their lives. Projects must genuinely correspond to local realities. In other words, consult with the people on what they want rather than imposing on them what you think they want. For example, it would not be right to force people into fish farming yet what they may need is bee-keeping, etc.
  2. Because the poorest are often unschooled and illiterate, this does not mean that they are unintelligent. Projects must trust the people. If the projects can also incorporate literacy in their work, the better. This is because literacy would help the poorest realize their potential.
  3. The poorest cannot afford complex and expensive technologies. And they are often not interested in nor bothered with grandiose technologies that seem irrelevant to their experiences. A case in point would be forcing computer technologies on them yet what they may need first are basic necessities of life like food and shelter!

Indeed, empowering the poorest is "about helping them empower themselves, discover or perhaps rediscover their power and giving them a glimpse of hope that they can also have improved lives". Moreover, the "worlds poorest are not an isolated and unreachable underclass" although the "task of reaching them is difficult yet it is not impossible".


Malawi and a Green Revolution in Africa?

Here are some of the articles that I have been collecting on Malawi and the debatable topic of a possible green revolution in Africa. With rising global food prices, food production is becoming a very big global issue as the world tries to find a solution to this crisis.

  1. How the rich world can help Africa help itself (Financial Times)
  2. Africa green revolution possible - Prof. Jeffrey Sachs (PSD Blog - World Bank group)
  3. Lessons from Malawi Food Policy (Cambridge Forecast Group blog)
  4. Dealing with Global Food Prices (International Herald Tribune)
  5. Malawi's farming revolution sets the pace in Africa (The Independent - UK)
  6. Sachs to EU: Food Aid Won't Solve Crisis (BusinessWeek)
  7. A Green Revolution for Africa by Kofi Annan (New Scientist - 07 May 2008)
  8. Small can be Beautiful (Inter Press Service - 07 May 2008)
  9. Overlooked in the global food crisis: A problem with dirt (Associated Press - 08 May 2008)


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