Why Africa should spend more on research in science, technology
Reading through the story of development, one gets the impression that Africa’s prospects of catching up with the developed world are becoming grimmer by the day. It is however true that we can only reverse our underdevelopment by embracing science and technology.
And we should start with our higher institutions of learning. Our universities spend a tiny fraction of their budgets on research and development.
On average, we in Africa spend on average 0.2% of Gross National Product on research in Science and Technology, while the developed countries spend nearly 4% of their GDP on research and development. USA with a GDP of about 11trillion spends on average 4 billion, excluding contributions of the private sector. On average we have one scientist per every ten thousand people.
Our Human Development Index is well below one, with Norway having the highest. Although Norway discovered oil at the same time as Nigeria, the sixth largest oil producer in the world, the latter remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The developed world including the Newly Industrialized countries (NIC), spend on average 3% of their GDP on research and development.
Africa is the only continent that lags behind the rest of the world in nearly every aspect of human endeavour that relates to scientific discovery and knowledge.
In the current global knowledge economy, there is no option but to ensure that the children of the industrialized west have better powers of memory and concentration. Thanks to cognitive enhancement drugs that are now available. Interestingly, even the older people are taking a cocktail of drugs to postpone effects of ageing, while our continent’s life expectancy continues to stagger at 45 years.
The topic of “human enhancement” has elicited furious debate in the United States today as well as parts of Europe such as the United Kingdom. The frightening pace of development, despite current financial crisis, in some parts of the world in the fields of neuroscience, biotechnology, computing and nanoscience—is such that “many envisage dramatic breakthroughs in how we can modify ourselves, our physical and mental capabilities”.
While citizens of the western world can claim to live much longer, stronger and, who knows, cleverer, many Africans, still struggling with the basic needs of life do not have much hope of ever meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
As Madeline Bunting has pointed out, human beings are on the verge of a huge leap in development, leaving behind the sick, quarrelsome, weak, fallible creatures.
And the question remains: what place will equality have in this challenging brave new world of increasing disparities?
While this debate is going on in the United States and Western Europe, our debate in Africa should go beyond daily bread. We should be thinking of a grand strategy of extricating ourselves from poverty and underdevelopment.
African political leadership and policy makers should implement the many proposals already undertaken by our own African researchers and innovators that other parts of the world have easily embraced because, as the saying goes, prophets are never honored in their own homes.
Initiatives so far undertaken to address our development challenges, from the Lagos Plan of Action and the companion African alternative framework for structural adjustment to more recent New Partnership for Africa’s Development, should not be allowed to be undermined by policy wonks brought from outside our continent.
African political leaders should place their scientists and technocrats in the frontline of innovation and knowledge creation so as to have a firm foundation for our continent’s future. In this way, our technocrats will have space to initiate and carry through various programmes to their conclusive logical end. We need our own alternative thinking to development, if at all we are to be on the right match to claim the twenty-second century, for the twenty-first century looks like it has been taken!
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk