Ehiedu E.G. Iweriebor calls for an endogenous technological development


In my last submission, I made the point that Africa should seek to develop on
the basis of a comprehensive liberatory strategy of development which has
several carefully articulated components. The central component of this new
approach, I posited was the development of endogenous technological capacity as basis for mass industrialization to generate social prosperity and provide the basis for African capacity for self-actuated and regenerative development. The recent comments on the issue of technology are therefore germane to Africa's quest for successful development.
     However, it should be stated emphatically that any quest for Africa's
technological self-equipment should abandon completely the model of "technology transfer."  This dogma which was sold to naive African leaders of the 1950s and 60s, has been the ruling ideology and approach toward technology development in the past 40-50 years. It has led us no where. But this outcome is not surprising because the dogma itself was and is inherently flawed and disempowering. The assumption that any technologically advanced country would transfer its technology to Africa for its development must be considered a non-starter from the get-go. That African leaders and intelligentsia believed that disempowering fantasy and apparently still believe it, is part of the incompleteness of ideological, mental and cultural liberation that afflicts neo-colonial societies. No country has ever developed on the basis of this disempowering dogma which places the engine of technical development outside the control and shores of countries and people who seek to develop.
  The story of the contemporary newly industrialized countries makes it clear
that they have generally developed this capacity by investing in creating the
minimum technological infrastructure as the foundation on which they
acquired and developed their national technological capacities. This is what
most African countries which subjected themselves to the dogma of "transfer of technology" failed to do. The minimum foundation for technological take-off is the creation of a vibrant and robust heavy industry sector or an engineering infrastructure. This includes the CAPITAL GOODS INDUSTRY comprising the mechanical or non-electrical machinery subsector; the electrical machinery subsector; the transport equipment and scientific, electronic and professional equipment subsectors; and secondly the INTERMEDIATE GOODS INDUSTRY industry comprising for examples the metallurgical, chemical, paper industries and others that provide the materials that are used by the machinery industry and converted by secondary industries.

  National and continental technology development are simply impossible without this basic technological infrastructure.For people and countries which seek to assume primary responsibility for their development and prosperity generation, there simply is no alternative than formulation of and faithful implementation of a public-private sector strategy for the development of these sectors. These are generally initially expensive to establish,  but their pay-off is PERMANENT: the domestication of the human resources and technical capacity for self-development within its shores and in Africa in general. Despite the alleged failure of the poorly conceived and poorly financed public sector technology projects in some countries African countries, given their initial cost, there really is no alternative to systematic state investments in the creation of this technological infrastructure. The complementary small and medium scale heavy industry can can be developed by capable local capitalist sector.
   I am aware that this suggestion for activist state intervention, flies in the
face of the current African romance with and obeisance to the Western fetish of privatization and state disablement; but ideological clarity and commitment to Africa's self-propulsion to modernity requires the courage to defy conventional fashions and chart the path of freedom from the African and foreign promoters of African dependency, servility and supplication.
     The point then is that African technology development understood as the
systematic acquisition of endogenous technological capacity cannot be brought from the outside through the other Western fetishes of African dependence: multinational corporations and Foreign Direct Investments. Forty years of laying the red carpet for foreign investors and multinational companies has not contributed to African technology development or industrial take-off. The reasons are clear. Foreign industrial investors, quite wisely built "assembly plant" industries, which are characterized by the importation of  technology, skills and raw materials for their operations. These enclave industries were unconnected with the local economies where they operated and therefore generated no substantive multiplier effects. It is not surprising therefore that when the economic crisis hit Africa in the late 1970s/early 1980s, that the assembly plants began to collapse. They had organized themselves to use African foreign exchange procured from the sale of primary commodities to import all their needs from their own countries or
elsewhere. In short, African primary producers were subsidizing the operations of the industrial enterprises of foreign "investors". That was the path of neo-colonial technology transfer and industrialization which African countries pursued and failed woefully from independence.
   In the light of this, any expectation that multinational corporations as for
example in the Information and Communication Technology sectors will come into Africa and "transfer technology" is a pipe dream. The pattern of development of Information Technology sector especially in the hardware subsector, in Africa today as for example in South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria has been for local promoters to establish assembly plants. This is a beginning but if it stops there, Africa would not have acquired the foundations of information technology: that is the production of the primary electronic components like chips, motherboards etc.
    In short, at this stage in African development history, from the lessons of
the total failure of the dogma of technology transfer which has been
operational for upwards of forty years, the strategy to adopt is twofold. First
is to liberate African states and leaderships from subservience to the Western
fetishes (juju) of backwardness retailed by its historical conquerors and to
assume ideological and moral responsibility for building the foundations of
African prosperity and freedom through the activation of  technological
development, by establishing a continental and national engineering
infrastructure. Second, to encourage investments in industries and services
which expand and deepen the engineering infrastructure through provisions of for
examples of machinery and equipment blueprints, know-how and so on.
     This is where the new African diaspora can contribute creatively. This can
be done in three ways. Those who have the capital resources can invest in small and medium scale metal production industries as well machinery and equipment manufacture. Second, those who are able can provide and/or sell reasonably priced engineering designs, and industrial products designs to national technology and research development centers; the actual African machinery and equipment producers and the manufacturers associations. This can be done through the industry and or trade organizations of these manufacturers. The third way is to establish linkages as organized technology groups in the diaspora with corresponding organized groups in African countries. Through these various strategies, the onus is on the new African diaspora to investigate what is the on the ground in Africa rather than assume that Africa is organizationally bereft and needs the salvationary mission of the new African diaspora. They then have to do the hardwork of networking with organized home based groups and mutually support each other for Africa's advancement. This way also the personal experiences and tales of woe of individual African diasporan missionary adventurers will be generally minimized and possibly obviated. It would also reiterate the point
that continental Africa will take-off primarily on the basis of the efforts of
the domestically located political, intellectual, technocratic and technical
leaders and intelligentsia, ably supported by modest but committed diasporan Africans.
Ehiedu E.G. Iweriebor,
Dept. of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies,
Hiunter College,
City University of New York,
New York, NY 10021