Can Africans industrialise in this era?

21 Feb, 2020 - 00:02 0 Views

eBusiness Weekly

Clifford Shambare

This heading is one of the last questions I asked in my article, “Can the African become a true capitalist?” These two are the questions that have dominated my mind for quite some time now?

I have had the chance to contemplate this matter for a good part of my life to date. During this whole period, I have observed that most white people I have been able to associate with closely, are quite ordinary people — not better than me in terms of any human qualities.

However, it cannot be denied that life in general, they are much better off than most blacks. This is not racists thinking, just a fact!

During the same period, I have come to one realisation: It is all to do with systems, values and cultures.

You see, on the one hand, Caucasians as a race, have a long history in the field of economic development. On the other hand, we Africans are still on the periphery of that phenomenon in this day and age.

The saddest part of this matter is that we think we have caught up with them. But nothing could be further from the truth!

From this point on, I want to illustrate this point in a way that I feel will make us understand the matter better than before.

You see, I feel that most of us tend to confuse manufacturing with industrialisation which itself, is broader in scope and deeper in profile than the former.

In the latter case, there is need for setting up a complete system, starting with institutions and accompanying legislative framework, patent laws, raw materials, technology and/or skills, the capital systems/markets, investment banks and firms, and all.

But although the former case requires some of these, it can start at a level that may not meet all the above-mentioned conditions, and still appear to function normally.

For example, one can still manufacture goods with machinery purchased from an industrialised system without having to meet all the conditions as given above.

The Industrial Revolution was the phenomenon that triggered the leap from the peasant subsistence culture to the current era, for those involved — that is, the Westerners.

However, although today, it may seem that the path the phenomenon followed to this day and age was smooth, there were negative fall outs from it that were so deep as to cause much suffering and loss of life to those caught up in it.

Examples here are the soup kitchens of London and the orphan trains from the East coast to the Western settlements of the USA.

That said, in order for that revolution to come about and to succeed, it needed a base and/or launch pad. To my mind, this launch pad was the craftsman tradition of those involved.

But then, the Europeans were not the only craftsmen on earth then; so what was so special about them that their craftsmanship eventually led to the industrial revolution?

Here, the matter becomes more interesting. First of all, the Europeans were not the first craftsmen to invent the wheel and the gear — both tools that eventually became the cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution. Historians have now discovered that the Chinese invented the gear  around 600 BCE.

And come to think of it, a part of the Africans in the north of the continent were actually some of the pioneers of modern science and engineering. However, why and how the Africans fell behind is a matter of much speculation and conjecture!

Considered from this perspective, one can argue that the phenomenon that is regarded as a revolution may actually not have been a revolution but some sort of evolution since the phenomenon took about 80 years from 1760 to 1840. As a result, there is considerable debate among historians over this issue.

Be that as it may, at this stage, it becomes pertinent to ask what really triggered the phenomenon. In this case, some scholars argue that it was triggered by a few industries while others argue that it was a number of industries interacting or working separately. Cotton and steel industries, the construction of rail lines and the canals of England, come into the picture at this stage of the argument.

But whatever the case may be, there is no doubt the role the Westerners played in this phenomenon. There is also no doubt in the role played by their type of craftsmanship here.

Furthermore, the link between that craftsmanship and science — specifically theoretical and practical physics, and engineering — made the revolution possible.

Looking at the matter in its totality, we find that although the African had hitherto been also part of the crafts tradition, for some reason, he fell behind the Westerner.

In this respect, the Asian — specifically, the Chinese’s position in the matter — is now becoming clearer due to new historical information that is now being unearthed. This fact may explain the (apparent) long leap that the later are making in the technological field.

At this juncture, I believe we have arrived at that point where we begin to appreciate why the African remains on the periphery in matters of economic progress and prosperity. He has not partaken in the phenomenon of the Industrial Revolution.

At this same point, it becomes fairly clear why he is poor and relatively backward in the same realm. So the question to ask here is this: Can the African catch up with the others in the field of industrialisation? If so, how?

To find the appropriate answer to this question, let us follow the progression of the phenomenon from the beginning to the present. Here there are schools of thought that argue that there has not been only one Industrial Revolution but three; that we are now in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If that is the case, is the African at this stage, still on the periphery of same, or is he partly in it?

If the latter is the case, is it possible to be partly in and partly out of such a system/phenomenon? To my mind, there is no half industrialist; one is ether in or out of it.

This view implies is that the African needs to reconsider his position in the current world order. Looking closely into the matter, we find that he suffers from certain weaknesses which, if he does not seriously attend to, he will remain in his peripheral position.

As far as I can see the matter, the African wants to remain in his comfort zone if we may call it that — although in actual fact, it is a perpetual discomfort zone. This is a position where he wants foreign direct investment (FDI) to do everything for him.

So what is this thing called FDI? Essentially, this is foreign investment, but of a special kind. FDI differs from ordinary foreign investment — what is normally referred to as portfolio investment.

The two differ in one critical way. FDI brings everything into the host country —that is managerial and technical expertise, machinery and mostly foreign money.

It is these components that the African seems to have challenges dealing with.  To my mind, if ever he could provide even a fraction of these components, he would be on his way up the ladder of economic emancipation.

This position will obviate his desperate need for direct foreign involvement in his economy since he currently has all the other inputs that industrialisation requires. These are virtually all the natural resources, including himself and his skills.

In fact today, the West runs most of its industries with raw materials obtained from Africa, among other developing nations. And it is now secretly worried that this condition may not continue forever.

As proof of this fact, let me quote Dominic Strauss Khan, the former MD of the IMF, while he was being interviewed by Newsweek journalist sometime in 2007: “I think the time when the rest of the world produced all the raw materials, with America consuming, is gone.”

That said, one fact should be a cause for concern to the developing world, Africa and Zimbabwe included. The industrialised countries — including the latest ones — are reserving their natural resources for future use while they exhaust those of Africa.  To make matters worse for us, we Africans seem not be aware, or even conscious of this fact!

Coming back to Zimbabwe, in order appreciate this logic better, imagine yourself making most of that equipment that you think you cannot do without!

Interestingly, however, the Africans have not been sitting on their laurels regarding this matter. There have been cases where some of them have invented some machinery and systems as well as making some machine models with an African brand. Sadly however, they have met with some huge and complex hurdles on the way.

Let us look into some of the main ones here. First of all — like I have pointed out already — there is need for an enabling environment with all the ingredients not the least of which is government support that has the political will from the leadership. This helps in protecting and nationalizing whatever invention/innovation is made.

In this respect, we often find African political leaders neglecting or even suppressing the efforts of their inventors/innovators.

In Zimbabwe we have several cases, Daniel Chingoma (helicopter), Kumbulani. Chikumbutso (helicopter) and now, William Sachiti with his driver-less delivery car that he is developing in London instead of Zimbabwe.

In Nigeria there was Ezekiel Izogou 1997 who invented the first all African technology, the Z-600. Then there is Innocent Chukwuma and his Innoson model. Ghana we have Kantanka by Qwadwo Safo.

The Kiira EV Smack of Uganda(students) . . . the Mobvius II in Kenya and the Wind and Solar Powered car in Nigeria by Segun Oleyiola constructed with VW. Beetle and other materials).

Now, the sort of challenges that these inventions and innovations have encountered over the years are quite telling on their own.

Here they are:

Lack of an overall system to incubate them.

Lack of both legislative and financial support from government and local industrialists.

Sabotage from competitors, sometimes assisted by local politicians, not the least of which are those in power at that time.

As a result of these challenges, a good number of these inventors/innovators have left their home countries for greener pastures, mainly the USA and the UK.

For example, in the USA there are Nigerians Saheed Adepoju designed the INYE1&2 tablet computer designed for African market and Jelani Aliyu who designed General Motors’ leading auto brand, Chevrolet Volt.

Then we have black inventors who have made it good in America but for the benefit of Africa but of the host countries. In the USA we have Booker T. Washington (100 groundnut food inventions), Granville T Woods (The telephone, electric train, street car, and more).

So if we look critically at what this situation implies, we can deduce that there is more to industrialiasation than meets the eye. First of all, there has to be a psychological readiness by the Africans to industrialize.

Secondly, there has to be locally based systems and institutions to house and facilitate this work.

Thirdly, there has to be funds to support these strategies. Fourthly, there have to be functional continental intra and inter country financial and trading systems.

But if we look closely still at the matter, we find that at worst, most of these requirements are currently lacking on the continent. At best, they are still struggling or at their infancy. In some cases, unity of purpose or even goodwill among Africans, is                                                                                                                          lacking.

However, one does not want to dismiss the continent’s situation off hand. There is some light at the end of the tunnel. For example, some action is now being taken in areas such as trade, through the removal of trade barriers between African nations.


To be continued

Clifford Shambare is an agriculturist cum economist and is reachable on 0774960937.

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