In Africa, just like in other parts of the world, there are talents who are coming up with scientific discoveries of all kinds. It is quite interesting to notice that some of the best of these talents stem from modest or even poor social classes. Why is that? Only providence can eventually tell us! And perhaps providence will state that these talents, by living in poor or modest conditions, have the mission to find solutions to alleviate poverty. They try to the best of their abilities to find the most appropriate solutions to the problems they encounter on a daily basis because they face specific difficulties in their surrounding for which the solutions they have discovered could, ideally, contribute to the development of their country.
Let’s try to picture this reality. Imagine a young and talented African who is under 20 and who has developed, for instance, a generator that runs with salted water instead of diesel, or another one who has developed a generator that runs with oxygen from the air. What if these innovators/inventors have manufactured prototypes about their technology with scraps and other locally available materials and have proven that their technology works?
Well, in most cases, they will not be taken seriously in Africa, while, at the same time, electricity is a scarce resource on this continent. Here is the paradox: there exists locally available solutions to power Africa, but these solutions are not even looked at by decision-makers. But how can this continent actually develop if we believe that solutions will “always” come from the outside because the ones developed by Africans are deemed … inferior, if not irrelevant.
It is always easy to criticize someone who has developed a prototype or a concept that pretends to defy the laws of physics, mathematics, etc. He is often considered insane and not worth listening to. Criticizers tend to forget that science is complex because it is both static and dynamic. In other words, science is always full of surprises that generally become comprehensible over time.
Do you remember the geocentric model which asserted that the Earth was the center of the Universe? How many people were cast out or threatened to death, at that time, because they knew, through scientific observation and models, that the Ptolemaic model or geocentric model of the universe was an aberration? Thinking this way was both a scientific and religious sacrilege at that time! It was dangerous to contradict religion and the scientific truth of that time. But today it is evident for almost everybody, with our telescopes and satellites, to assert that this theory was absurd, right! As one can see, an absurdity was considered the “truth” for centuries? The above example, among others, reminds us to remain humble about scientific discoveries. Indeed, what might seem unrealistic according to today’s standards of science may actually be a scientific truth tomorrow which, in turn, will be replaced by another one over time. What is the link, though, with Africans’ inferiority complex and Africa’s underdevelopment?
The colonial legacy, mentality-wise, is one of the causes, but not the only one, that explains this inferiority complex. Changing this mentality is, therefore, a daunting task because it is quite weird that patriotism is not valued when it comes to encouraging innovation in science and technology related fields in Africa.
Now, it is one thing to talk about Africa’s emergence and industrialization, to give awards here and there and to take pictures with winners and runner-ups during mediatized events. But the real question is: how many of those who have been congratulated politically will really be backed up financially so that their innovations or inventions can be mass-produced; so that Africans are proud to purchase and use made in Africa products by Africans?
It seems that the answer to the above question is: almost none of them. Otherwise, Africa would have already experimented generating energy from seawater, oxygen from the air or trees (natural plants). But maybe it is indeed insane to think so. Aren’t African scientists, in the imaginary of other Africans, intellectually limited to be able to manufacture sophisticated systems that can generate electricity? Agriculture-wise, too, how many Africans have already developed machines that could help Africa mechanize agriculture? They are innumerous. And of course, despite the fact that many African countries placed agriculture as a strategic economic sector or priority, Africans who have the skills to mechanize agriculture with very little help from the outside, thus at a cheaper cost, are not the ones that rulers listen to. Consequently, Agriculture is not mechanized and the agro-processing industry, a corollary of agriculture, has not been developed to its full potential.
The image that has been strongly embedded in the minds of even the best educated Africans is that science and technology can only thrive in the developed world. It is, therefore, an aberration to even think about manufacturing a needle in Africa by Africans, with industrial equipment manufactured by Africans! Geographically, marketing-wise and economically speaking, Africans are seen as mere consumers of products developed overseas. They must remain consumers and not at all the manufacturers of the products that they are currently importing! Therefore, what kind of industrialization are African rulers talking about when they argue that Africa must industrialize? It is their responsibility to send out the right signal regarding the true meaning of industrialization.
There are several ways to value an African genius. Let’s take the case of Arthur Zang from Cameroon who is the designer of a medical tablet that performs ECG (electrocardiogram). Why is it that there are not many hospitals in Cameroon and in Africa that have acquired this efficient device that can save a lot of lives? Not to mention that the cost of the device is more than affordable and could eventually be reduced. Indeed, industrialization would mean supporting the inventor financially and diplomatically, among others, to make sure that Cameroon becomes able to manufacture most of the components needed to assemble the devices in Cameroon, instead of them being assembled overseas. It would also mean that the educational system would have started working with Arthur Zang so that Cameroonian students be acquainted early with the courses that the inventor had to learn from India (remote learning) to manufacture his first prototype. This is the best way to have an efficient labor force that must be trained to solve real local problems. Industrialization would also mean that Cameroon would have launched a diplomatic campaign in Africa to showcase a device which is one of the best innovations in the world in the healthcare industry and then help the inventor sign contracts in other African countries, etc.
To conclude, Africans can be serious about their future, if they want to. Industrialization is one of the surest paths towards development in Africa because all the natural resources available on this continent should be extracted and processed in Africa as a true sign of her industrialization. The techniques or methods needed to industrialize Africa can be developed in Africa where scientists and researchers with limited funds, but not with a limited brain, are devising solutions at a cost that African governments can afford. The latter must not think that Africans are only good dancers, singers, poets, comedians or football players. They are excellent scientists with ideas that can defy our preconception about science and technology. This is why the first step towards development through industrialization is “mental liberation”.