A united people, Africans are determined as well as committed to survive. The land or territory called Africa will always survive. The question is: Will its people survive too? According to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” To be most responsive to change means to be most adaptive. The emerging world is changing its patterns of governance, business practices, and methods of communication; it is also constantly undertaking research and finding new and improved ways of getting things done.
According to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” To be most responsive to change means to be most adaptive. The emerging world is changing its patterns of governance, business practices, and methods of communication; it is also constantly undertaking research and finding new and improved ways of getting things done. All of these changes continue to trickle down to impact and enhance the quality of life of the citizens of those countries that are submitting and adapting, the most, to these changes. That was how the computer and the Internet came into being. Beginning from the industrial revolution, people went from their homes to factories and offices as well as shops and grocery stores respectively to work and to make their purchases. Today, the information age, of which the space age is an indispensable component, has repositioned our work and social lives away from any fixed location as many societies are already adapting to work and shop from home or on the move.
John Stansell illustrated the concept of change and adaptation in his 1979 commentary on Britain and innovation when, in assessing the economic power and prosperity of his country, he proudly concluded that: “Everyone knows that we are an industrial country, that our wealth is based on adding value to raw materials, and that our trained engineers are our lifeblood.”¹ What John Stansell implied could be that although the geographical size of a nation may endow it with a given amount of natural resources and thus a manifestation of its potential power, just as is the case, today, in a number of African countries, however, the real power of a country is measured in terms of its economic prowess, that is, the proven capacity of that society to translate scientific knowledge into economic productivity, through its judicious and determined exploitation of technologies. That process also requires change and adaptation. Nothing prevents any African country, with abundant natural resources, from becoming an industrialised country and an economic power; the first step is a commitment to change and adapt, as appropriate, using the necessary knowledge to accomplish that goal.
Innovation matters for Africa in the emerging world because, as a united people, Africans are determined as well as committed to survive. The land or territory called Africa will always survive. The question is: Will its people survive too? Africa’s survival, as a people, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is predicated on the ways it chooses to address the many challenges it faces at home and abroad, today, including its response(s) to the quantum change in the emerging world. To survive means to accept that the days of business as usual is over; that is, Africa must rethink the way it does business and conducts itself at home and abroad. To accept the need to change and become adaptive to the change process requires a number of challenging steps. Among the challenges Africa faces, today, are the following:
- The tide of people-engineered revolution(s) will come unless Africa’s political leaders and decision makers change their style and approach to governance and adapt to people-centred governance (politics, policies, performance with emphasis on functional infrastructures, and accountability) that appreciably enhances the quality of life of the African people, as is known globally to be the practice in most enlightened societies of the emerging world. In Africa’s interest, it is do-able.
- Africa must stem the negative aspects of globalization for the continent. Africa must become a major producer of finished goods and services that meet the needs of its people while exporting the same to the global market. Today, globalization has reduced sub-Saharan Africa to a region of unbridled consumers of finished goods and services, of all grades and shades, from abroad, to the detriment of the African people. In the process, Africa’s industrial development efforts and productivity have crumbled and stagnated with related unemployment and damaging economic consequences.
- The growing African population and the continuing migration of that population from rural to urban centres are resulting in a number of major crises, amongst which are growing unemployment in the urban areas and reduced productivity, particularly in food and agricultural products in the rural areas; if unchecked, the latter could lead to food scarcity for the nation. What are the innovative ways that Africa should evolve to arrest this problem, meet the needs of this population as well as ensure that they become productive members of the society either at the urban centres or back in the rural communities?
- Africa, as a knowledge-based society, should have a future in the emerging world; that hinges on the long-term development and nurturing of Africa’s own inquiring minds that will gain the necessary knowledge, understanding and an appreciation of why and how a given technology works the way it does. Such minds are not born overnight. The building of such minds should begin with Africa’s conscious and continuing effort to make science a fun activity from an early age, a process that should develop into enriched science and technology programmes at the secondary school and the undergraduate levels. The nurturing of such minds should culminate in front-line research in appropriate disciplines at the post-graduate levels of Africa’s universities and in its research laboratories, public and private. The knowledge requirements of new and advanced technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, material science, renewable energy and the space enterprise cannot survive on standard industrial technologies alone. The same is true of the knowledge requirements of climate change and sustainable development.
- Accordingly, African governments must become active partners in innovation by committing themselves to the following, among others: (a) Invest in basic scientific research – the critical foundation for new ideas, methods and products; (b) Establish the right policies that would lead to business innovation and creativity, including facilitating partnerships between research institutions/universities and related industries; and (c) Instill the culture of academic freedom that will enable the universities and research institutions to collaborate, associate with the private sector, and develop creative programmes that will (i) enable students to receive hands-on education throughout their studies and thus help them build a career they can graduate into or be found as major assets by prospective employers, and (ii) that are relevant to the solution of local problems. Through the above changes and adaptations, Africa can successfully address its many internal challenges as well as shed its permanent spectator status in global affairs.
¹ John Stansell (1979). Britain and innovation, New Scientist, 15 February 1979, p. 458.