RE: “A case for Smart African Continental Free Trade Area” (The New Times, March 21).
I like these ideas on digital platforms. The whole world is going digital and Africa must not miss out, but I also deeply dislike the currently prevailing worship-like preaching of digital solutions as critical to Africa’s problems. Africa must not miss the wave of the Fourth Revolution, but it must be careful lest it be wrecked by it.
You had better built a strong foundation for a house before you rush to finish it and it collapses before it even stands. Currently, the most pressing need in Africa is not digital currency, advanced biotechnology or autonomous vehicles.
New things evolve from old things; and how will one make an autonomous car if they cannot even make their own normal car to begin with? We want to work on cutting-edge technology “but there cannot be an edge without a knife”, as Peter Drucker put it. Cutting-edge technology does not just happen. It is made to happen by great people—nerd entrepreneurs. New inventions are not done by men in black suits; they are done by tinkering nerds who are willing to dig their hands in the mud for the fun and passion of it. Working on the frontiers of science and technology costs the smartest of minds and the most of capital. You have to have both in plenty supply. Whether we have either of these two, I will leave it for you.
In any case, I am not very confident we have either of the factors needed to be a player in the club of cutting-edge technology developers. However, any time is right to start building. I would wish for CFTA (Continental Free Trade Area) to soften the ground for breaking. I would wish for CFTA to be an opportunity for African countries to grow the sectors that allow for the accumulation of capital, the most important of which could be agriculture/food, manufacturing and transport and other public types of infrastructure.
We have also got to develop human resources needed for the good science and technology we sing about. Our education is undeniably very weak, one apparent reason being that we believe we can dispense with it and have “knowledge-based” society, with blockchains and all.
We must build an education that will supply the best minds if we want to realise our digital revolution talk. Foundation = capital + education. There is no house without a foundation, and there is no edge without a knife.