Going for Growth – Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa

I have read with interest the following text published in Development Gateway’s dgCommunities :

Going for Growth: Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa

Overview:

This collection of essays by key experts in the field of international development looks at the role of science, technology and innovation in encouraging a risk-taking, problem solving approach to development cooperation in Africa. This year has seen an unprecedented determination by the world’s richest nations to engage with the development of the poorest. The report of the Commission for Africa, chaired by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Our Common Interest, set out the themes that dominated the G8’s discussions at Gleneagles over the summer, while a mass movement, in the form of the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, affirmed that the political agenda was matched by a widespread public demand for action. Central to this transformative agenda will be the role of science, technology and innovation, both as a driver of economic growth within the developing countries and as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies.
Calestous Juma, ed. The Smith Institute, London, November 2005.
Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
ISBN: 1 902488 97 0
Document Length: 129 pp.

For more information about this publication please contact:
info@smith-institute.org.uk.

Contributor: John Daly – Published Date: February 7, 2007

Going for Growth in Action: Smith Institute Report’s Ideas Applied to Africa’s Mining Industry

Science, Technology, and Globalization Project Director Calestous Juma has sparked a serious debate about education, entrepreneurship, and Africa’s mining industry in Dr. Chris Hinde’s “Comment” column which appears in Mining Magazine. Juma is the editor of Going for Growth: Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa (.pdf), a collection of essays published by the Smith Institute, a British think tank. “Going for Growth” emphasizes building Africa’s capacity to solve its own problems.

Juma starts his essay with “Most African economies have historically been associated with natural resources and raw materials. There is growing recognition, however, that a transition into modern economies will involve considerable investment and use of new knowledge.” He has since called for the mining industry to fund and lend expertise to a school of entrepreneurship that would raise scientific literacy — and be located in the African country that makes the best case for hosting it. The school would have places for approximately 100 students per year and would serve as a model for similar centers of learning all over Africa. See “African Lessons” (.pdf) by Dr. Chris Hinde in Mining Magazine (February 2006) for the complete interview.

A later issue of Mining Magazine continued the discussion, focusing on the need for the proposed schools to teach how both the international risk-capital markets operate and mining ventures are financed. African mining operators and investors must be trained on how and where to obtain capital. See “Money Matters” (.pdf) by Dr. Chris Hinde in Mining Magazine (June 2006).

On June 22, 2006, Professor Calestous Juma resumed the discussion by addressing the Human Rights & Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C. The Roundtable is comprised of representatives of the extractive industry (oil & mining companies), human rights organizations, and development agencies. They meet regularly in invitation-only, confidential sessions to discuss issues of common cause and concern — specifically the promotion of the rule of law and open societies. Over the last few years the group has focused increasingly on community and economic development projects and issues surrounding community engagement.

This session, entitled “Bain or Blessing: Can the Extractive Industry Help Reinvent African Economies?”, focused on how resources can be utilized to “extract growth” for Africa, as well as other developing countries. Professor Juma discussed how the extractive industry, which is becoming dominant in many African economies, can be used as an engine of sustainable growth, breaking the widely held view that natural resource extraction is associated with corruption and environmental non sustainability. The Roundtable explored the direct links between community/development activities, including corporate partnerships with international donor agencies and the larger strategy of economic development. As companies invest to increase the local content of their work and managerial force, they are promoting (and could further promote) higher technologies in the fields of business, communications, engineering, and the environment.

———————————-

MY VIEWS ON “GOING FOR GROWTH IN ACTION”

What an interesting text about “the role of science, technology and innovation in encouraging a risk-taking, problem solving approach to development cooperation in Africa”!. This is what we were since long looking for: “a problem solving approach development cooperation in Africa”, and all other developing regions of course, in particular when entering a period of “an unprecedented determination by the world’s richest nations to engage with the development of the poorest” (Make Poverty History campaign).

It sounds like a dream-come-true when we read:

Central to this transformative agenda will be the role of science, technology and innovation, both as a driver of economic growth within the developing countries and as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies”.

Let us go a bit deeper into the “serious debate” about education, entrepreneurship, and Africa’s mining industry, sparked by Director Calestous Juma (see above) when he starts his essay with …

Most African economies have historically been associated with natural resources and raw materials. There is growing recognition, however, that a transition into modern economies will involve considerable investment and use of new knowledge.

We learn that Juma “has since called for the mining industry to fund and lend expertise to a school of entrepreneurship that would raise scientific literacy — and be located in the African country that makes the best case for hosting it. The school would have places for approximately 100 students per year and would serve as a model for similar centers of learning all over Africa. See “African Lessons” (.pdf) by Dr. Chris Hinde in Mining Magazine (February 2006) for the complete interview”.

That is the turning point where I am not following anymore the heartbeat of the “serious debate”. Looking for “a problem solving approach development cooperation in Africa”, a continent where drought, desertification, hunger, poor public health and poverty are the main obstacles for a swift development, shall we now turn to funding and lending expertise to schools of entrepreneurship that would raise scientific literacy?

I would rather think that transfer of Science, Technology and Innovation should first concentrate on funding and lending expertise in agriculture, horticulture and health sciences, used as drivers for sustainable economic growth and as “as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies” in those basic fields mentioned above.

I can never believe that it will be possible to educate good entrepreneurs in schools of excellence (100 students a year!), as long as the stomachs of those students will be empty or only partly filled. But maybe we are not speaking about the same students, members of the poor rural communities?

Let us not put the horses before the carriage of the rural population!

If we really want to focus “on community and economic development projects and issues surrounding community engagement”, it will be necessary to first solve the problems of the community’s primary needs, like food and health care, before spending mountains of financial resources on creating “top managers for the mining industry”.

Instead of discussing “…how the extractive industry, which is becoming dominant in many African economies, can be used as an engine of sustainable growth, breaking the widely held view that natural resource extraction is associated with corruption and environmental non sustainability”, it would be better to discuss possibilities to create first an engine for sustainable growth in agriculture and public health, where environmental sustainability can be the crux of the matter.

If it is really true that “… companies invest to increase the local content of their work and managerial force, they are promoting (and could further promote) higher technologies in the fields of business, communications, engineering, and the environment”, I would rather invite those companies to promote higher technologies in the fields of agricultural and environmental engineering, without thinking too much at “extracting or mining natural resources”, because that almost never happens with the clean objective to improve the daily life of the local people.

Am I still preaching in the desert?

Dr. Willem Van Cotthem

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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