From where I stand, we can’t import our way into development. If we have to develop, we have to create the capabilities that deliver the needs and values of the society we want.

For more than 60 years, we’ve been trying to industrialize and importing most of our infrastructures in the way of development.

That’s not development.

That’s serving only as a market for other’s development. While the rest of the world is busy building new things, we’re busy importing their engineers and analysts to build ours whereas we sell the abundance of our minerals raw to them.

I’ve been wondering about this conundrum for a while. I’ve read the many books and theories that try to provide a blueprint for development. From those that insist on the legal frameworks to others that push for economic protectionism. In the end, what all are missing is the most critical element of development — learning.

A society that doesn’t learn can’t solve its problems or build its infrastructures. A society that can’t build its infrastructures or solve its problems is not developing even if it has all the advances built by other societies. Actually, such a society is living on borrowed time. That’s the case today for most of Africa.

We’ve largely lacked the capabilities to solve our problems or build our infrastructures. Most often, we want the infrastructures more than we want to develop. It’s like putting the cart before the horse. We have to first develop the capabilities to build the infrastructures. Then we build the infrastructures. That’s development.

Given that we are in an interdependent world, we have to trade with others. So, we have to be the number one of a few, good in the bulk and clueless in a few. We use the ones we’re top to exchange for those we’re clueless. Our trade should be predominantly of knowledge, not only goods or services, worst of all loans or grants.

Let’s take a look at China. China is chiefly a communist country. The factors of production — land, labor and capital are primarily owned by the state. The state seems to be the sole entrepreneur. However, China has been able to take 50 or so years to develop capabilities in auto-mechanics, electronics, software design, shipbuilding, energy equipment, healthcare and a host of others. Why? Because China learned and built all these capabilities by itself.

For many years, China didn’t bother about the luxuries of the “developed” world. She rather took her time to build the capabilities to produce these luxuries. Now, China exports the same to the rest of the world. She is the world’s manufacturer.

I am not saying we should become the world’s manufacturer, that’s taken.

But Africa, with all its mineral endowment and growing population, should become the powerhouse of future technologies, products and services. It’s a matter of building the relevant capacities and capabilities. Africa needs engagement from all levels of the society, from governments to education and the people. We all have roles to play in this NEW AFRICA. But to do that we must be willing to learn.

So far, we have been denying ourselves the right to learning and development. Each time our GOVERNMENTS award contracts to foreign companies in the name of the lack of local expertise, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn. Expertise is built through practice, and practice makes perfect. But given our desires for things to be done to “international” standards from day one, we are therefore pushed, by our desires and the rest to prefer to hire not only the expertise but foreign companies to execute the contract.

Leaving ourselves void of learning, void of profits and void of development. When there’s a need for maintenance, who do we call when we have no idea of the full blueprints? We have to change, we have to implement a new model. It will need all of us.


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