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Four measures to help Africa out of the doldrums period

         Date: 2012-04-17

           Tag: Africa doldrums, Africa doldrums period

Summary: Four main steps need to be taken to navigate Africa out of the doldrums, and South Africa is well placed to lead the way.

Despite the racism and skewed global political and economic arrangements, the African continent must still invest intellectual capital in how to get itself on the same or better footing as the dominant western and other societies.

Somewhat depressing is the belief among some South Africans that future economic growth will only come through racial redistributive measures – effectively the most talked about leg of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

Four main steps need to be taken to navigate Africa out of the doldrums, and South Africa is well placed to lead the way.

The first is to prioritise education. The SA government’s recognition of education as an important driver of economic growth is indicated by the size of its budget allocation (R168 billion in 2011).

The country is however not getting value for its money. The quality of matric results is abysmal, especially in “black” schools.

This is a fact whose impact on the economic upliftment of black people must never be underestimated. For as long as only 50 percent of children who start school eventually complete matric, and most of those who do get hopelessly poor marks, the prospects of black people in the economy will remain poor – with or without BEE.

The problem is made worse by the shortage of university graduates who pursue doctorates in natural and industrial sciences.

This presents a two-pronged problem. The first is that the number of professors to supervise those who pursue PhD studies is diminishing. The second is that the production of new scientific knowledge slows down.

Africans often expend energy towards refuting the Western superiority complex about ancient scholarship, citing such centres of learning as Timbuktu.

This is important, but a question has to be asked: What is Africa’s 2012 version of Timbuktu?

Until academic excellence becomes the norm for the majority of particularly black children, most hopes of economic progress will remain a pipe dream. This is the challenge of our time.

The second is to use our success in education to breed a new class of scientists and inventors of knowledge which can later be industrialised. We however cannot do this if we do not conduct the research that comes as part of doctoral and post-doctoral studies, and we do not incentivise private corporations to conduct that research and patent it here in South Africa.

Until we start inventing new products and offering them to the rest of the world, we will continue to lag in the creation of new wealth. Today we drive Korean cars, make calls on Korean phones and have Korean appliances in our homes. This is not a coincidence.

We must be bold to say: “We are going to be the present-day Timbuktu. Within 20 years, two South African universities will be among the Top 20 universities in the world.

We will excel particularly in engineering and philosophy. The former to ensure we have enough human capital to drive our technological and heavy infrastructure development, the latter to develop a rich vein of African thinkers who can help us create a new African civilisation.”

Such goals appear to be pie in the sky, but we cannot go far if we don’t aim beyond ourselves.

Third is to industrialise at an incremental pace. South Africa has a unique advantage in that it already has several existing industries. It also has a government that now recognises that South Africa has been deindustrialising for some time, and that economic growth and therefore the inclusion of the majority in the economy will not happen if this trend continues.

It appears that many of us wrongly believe we can achieve economic success by merely replicating products invented and industrialised by others. We must invent and industrialise our own ideas.

Lastly, there is not a single civilisation in the history of mankind that has achieved cultural, military and political domination without education and economic success.

The era of using only military might to achieve economic expansion through colonisation is over, so political and military domination is now an outcome of economic success.

If South Africa and other African states are to get a strong foothold and build influence in the world order that currently puts them at a disadvantage, it is important that we lay the foundation for successful economies.

It is true that trade relations between nations are skewed against the African continent, but that reality does not detract from the basic truth: Africans will not be able to make progress until a higher number and proportion of its citizens are highly educated.

Our collective attitude towards our history and our future needs to change. We must respect, preserve and remember history but it must never detract from our goal of creating a future we can all be proud of.

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