A FULL TEXT OF THE LECTURE ON TECHNOLOGY THE KEY FOR AFRICA’S DEVELOPMENT DELIVERED BY DR. OGBONNAYA ONU, HONORABLE MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, TO MARK THE 56TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE STATE OF GHANA AS A REPUBLIC, ON JUNE 30, 2016, AT THE ACCRA INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTER (AICC), GHANA.

PROTOCOL:

I most sincerely thank the Government and the people of Ghana for inviting me to speak on Technology the Key for Africa’s Development, as part of the activities to mark the 56th Anniversary of the State of Ghana as a Republic. I bring to you very warm greetings from Nigeria. I also bring greetings from President Muhammadu Buhari, first to his brother President John Dramani Mahama and secondly to the over 26 million Ghanaians as you celebrate the 56th anniversary of your great nation as a Republic. Ghanaians should be proud of themselves because you have achieved a lot within the past 56 years as a Republic. I feel at home any time I am in Ghana. As the Togbe Kwami Vidza I of Kpando Municipal Council, I know that I am one of you. Also in the spirit of African brotherhood I regard Ghana as my second home.

I am very happy to speak on a very important topic, Technology the Key for African Development in Ghana because I remember vividly the prophetic words from a visionary leader, the First Prime Minister as well as the First President of the Republic of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. In the forward to the Seven Year Development Plan 1963 -1970, Osaiyefo Nkrumah wrote “the Plan Provides the Blue Print for the Future Progress and Development of Ghana as a nation. It is a program of social and economic development based on the use of science and technology to revolutionize our agriculture and industry. It is designed to provide the basis not only for our national progress and prosperity, but also of our ability to contribute to the advancement of the African Continent.” He knew then, as it is true now and will remain so for a long time to come, that no nation in history has ever attained true greatness without science and technology. President Nkrumah knew then the relevance and the importance of science and technology to nation building. We will continue to celebrate him for his vision, patriotism and the concern he had for the development of Africa. Also another great son of Ghana, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, is the Chairman of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), which is working to find lasting solutions to complex problems confronting Africa. The APP is made of ten very distinguished personalities, one of whom is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former President.

Africa is indeed a unique Continent destined for greatness. It is the accepted home of the early man and the first known human civilization. It is the second largest Continent with a landmass of 11,668, 545 sq. miles. It is the combined size of Europe with a landmass of 3,979,405 sq. miles; China with a landmass of 3,681,089 sq. miles and the United States of America with a landmass of 3,678,235 sq. miles. Hence Africa can contain within her the whole of Europe, the United States of America that has the largest economy in the world, as well as China which has the second largest economy and yet there will be a surplus landmass of 329, 816 sq. miles, which is the size of many smaller countries put together.

Africa has the longest river in the world, River Nile. It also has the largest non-polar desert, the Sahara Desert. Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is the longest curtain of water in the world just as the Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe area in the Democratic Republic of Congo has become the world’s largest wetland of international importance. Africa has some of the most intelligent, resourceful and enterprising people in the world. It also has some of the best soil and is widely acknowledged as the most endowed with numerous natural resources. Africa has established itself as the home of gold, diamond as well as many of the most important mineral resources needed for industrialization. There is hardly any mineral of importance that is not found in commercial quantities in Africa. It was the natural resources from Africa that helped many of the industrialized countries of the world to run their industries. The emerging economies of the world now depend on Africa to meet some of their increasing requirements of natural resources they need to expand and grow their economies. Africa has some of the best weather in the world. In most parts of Africa, all year round, it is never cold enough for snow to fall. The catastrophic weather conditions that ravage many other continents are rare in Africa. Indeed, many people strongly feel that if there had not been mosquitoes in the past, the demography of Africa would have been different from what we know it today. Also as many other parts of the world are aging, Africa is filled with young people.

It is important that we should always remember that Africa had a rich past. Our ancestors were men and women of great vision, creativity, innovation and ingenuity. They mastered their environment and employed science and technology as instruments for development. They studied the stars, irrigated their farms and built a civilization whose impact is still felt today. The mighty pyramids of Egypt, the great walls of Zimbabwe, the beautiful artistic works of Benin, Ife and Igbo-Ukwu of Nigeria, the Kente cloth of Ghana are testimonies of their technological prowess. A recent archeological finding near Lake Turkana in Kenya, has shown that even as far back as 3.3 million years ago our ancestors used stone tools. This again is a clear evidence of their technological prowess.

Notwithstanding the glory of our ancient past, the immediate past of Africa had been painful. The African had unfortunately become the face of hunger, disease, Illiteracy, abject poverty, malnutrition, political instability, strife, disorder and the home of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Fortunately, things have started to improve in the past fifteen years. The roots of democracy have grown deeper in the political soil of Africa. Conflict situations have decreased. Africa has been moving towards universal primary education. Death from malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/ AIDS is on the decline. Some African nations were among the fastest growing economies in the world. Before the recent collapse of commodity prices in the world, Africa’s economy was growing faster than those of other regions of the world and at twice the rate of the 1990s. Irrespective of this improvement in the past one and half decades, many problems still remain unsolved. Though poverty has declined in Africa by 40 percent since 1990, yet several millions of Africans live in abject poverty. It is estimated that over 620 million Africans live without access to electricity. Also it is estimated that 600, 000 Africans die each year as a result of household air pollution caused by the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking. Several millions of Africans, particularly those in the rural areas, do not have access to good drinking water, good housing, adequate health care and sanitation. Wealth disparities are on the increase as the gap between the rich and the poor has become wider. Many young people in Africa do not have jobs. The World Bank has estimated that as many as eleven million young people are expected to enter the job market in Africa every year for the next decade.

As I stand before you in this beautiful Conference Center, on this sacred soil of Accra, the Capital City of this great nation, my mind is worried and I feel very unhappy as I remember so many young Africans who in the bid to escape from the hardship at home and in the search of a better life try to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Day after day, week after week and month after month, many of these sons and daughters of Africa die as overcrowded boats capsize, day after day, leaving behind many dead bodies. Even with the news of this tragedy, more people are not deterred and still attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in both good and bad weather. This desperation can only be explained by huge excruciating pain in their hearts. The colour of the water of the Mediterranean Sea is gradually changing to red with the blood of these innocent men, women, boys, girls and children running away from a Continent of their birth which they rightly call their home.

Africa got to this sad state because Africans forgot those things that made their ancestors great. When Africans decided to take a route different from that of their ancestors, things started falling apart. Knowledge, particularly technological knowledge, no longer played the role that it did in the greatness of their past. It is important to point out that nations, both big and small, know that knowledge is central to development, social progress and human freedom. Such nations invested heavily in the pursuit of knowledge, particularly scientific and technological knowledge. The problems that confront a nation are usually numerous and diverse. However, with hard work and determination, when these problems were subjected under the searchlight of knowledge, solutions were found. It was the renowned Prussian military strategist, Carl Van Clausewitz (1780-1831) who, after studying the numerous problems that confront a people, observed that “all military problems are political, all political problems are economic and all economic problems are scientific and technological”.

The United States of America which, under 170 years, between 1776 when she became independent and 1945 when the Second World War ended, had become a super power, attached a lot of importance to scientific and technological knowledge. The USA not only had and still remains the largest economy in the world, but also dominated the globe militarily and culturally. Most of the scientific and technological inventions that shaped the 20th century were discovered in the United States.

At the beginning of the 20th century in 1903, the mass produced automobile, the full length motion picture and the air plane made their debut in the USA. The spacecraft which landed a man in the moon and safely brought him home, the personal computer with its software and the silicon processor which is its brain, are all American inventions. Even the nuclear bomb, which put a lot of fear into the hearts of men and women all over the world, was also an American invention.

The American attitude to knowledge was shaped from the beginning of the republic. Bernard Cohen in his book: Science and the Founding Fathers showed that the founding fathers of the USA were men who were seriously influenced by the science of their days. Three out of them became president. Science influenced their political thoughts both in and out of office. George Washington, the first American president, in his farewell address at the end of his presidency strongly advised his fellow Americans to support “the diffusion of knowledge”.

The Japanese miracle gripped the world in the second half of the 20th century. Japan which was essentially a developing country by the end of the Second World War in 1945 had, under forty years, transformed herself then into the second largest economy and later it is now the third largest economy in the world. The root cause of her spectacular rise was traced to the acquisition of knowledge.

Even countries, small in population and land mass, have attained greatness by embracing knowledge. Only few people gave Singapore, one of the smallest countries in the world much chance of survival when she gained independence in 1965. Thirty-five years later, at the end of the 20th century in 2000, the former British colony’s trading post became a thriving modern Asian metropolis. Singapore then had the world’s number one airline, best airport and busiest port of trade. The people of Singapore then enjoyed the world’s fourth highest per capita real income. Today, her gross domestic product (GDP) has continued to grow.

Lee Kuan Yew, the acknowledged father of Singapore, in his book: From Third World to First: The Singapore Story; 1965-2000, explained how by integrating technology into the country’s businesses, government and homes, he used the power of the internet to position Singapore for survival and success in the internet economy. Being fully aware, that there are two equalizers in life, namely the internet and education, the people of Singapore effectively deployed technology to transform their country from a poor dilapidated colony to a rich, modern and prosperous nation.

Political leaders and scholars do know the importance of knowledge in the developmental process. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, in his broadcast of 1943 remarked that: “the future of the world is to the highly educated races, who alone can handle the scientific apparatus necessary for pre-eminence in peace and survival in war”. Also it is remarkable that Israel based her national development plans on the prediction of Charles P. Steinmetz (1865- 1923) that: “there will come an age of independent nations whose frontline of defence will be knowledge”.

Many developing countries, between the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, made remarkable progress in their economic development. Such development was sustained over a long period of time. In every case, technological knowledge was employed to start and in most cases helped quicken the pace of economic growth and development. Notable among such countries, were those with large population such as China, India and Brazil.

China, though with a history of great achievements was once a poor country, but recorded an unprecedented high rate of economic growth averaging more than a per capita GDP growth rate of 8 percent over a period of more than three decades, stretching from 1979-2013. Within this period, China, with slightly less than one fifth of the world’s population, doubled her economy three times over to become the second largest economy in the world. This spectacular growth has no equal in modern history. China feeds 1.4 billion of her citizens. This is a major achievement. Do we imagine what would have happened to food prices in the world if the rest of the world had to feed 1.4 billion Chinese people?

India, with one of the oldest recorded civilizations in the world, entered the 21st century with a population of more than a billion people. She embraced technology and witnessed a high economic growth rate which was sustained for many years. Her achievements in so many areas were spectacular. She became a net exporter of food, a very impressive achievement in view of the huge shortage of food which India experienced in her immediate post-independent period. India built a strong industrial base, modernized her military and became both a nuclear and space power.

Brazil is the most populous country in Latin America. She is also the industrial giant of the region. By utilizing the enormous power of science and technology in exploiting her abundant natural resources and a huge labour force she, in the 1970s, became the leading industrial power of Latin America. Agricultural production, scientific research, innovation and technological development also improved considerably. By the 1990s, Brazil had one of the world’s largest economies. By 2012, she was the world’s seventh largest economy. Though Brazil currently experiences enormous challenges, yet her achievements through the effective utilization of science and technology for nation building is impressive.

Nations that are anxious to develop have long known that if they desire to modernize and be competitive, the only road to follow is that of knowledge, particularly scientific and technological knowledge. It is important to observe that just as the acquisition of knowledge helped many countries attain very high standards of living, so also its neglect inevitably result in the decline of the influence of those nations. Arnold Toynbee in his monumental work: A Study of History where he studied twenty-one great civilizations and Jim Nelson Black in his book: When Nations Die are both in agreement that intellectual apathy and lack of vision led to the disintegration of the structures that made civilization possible.

As I look around, I am convinced that Africa cannot be rich while Africans are poor. Slavery has come and is gone. Colonialism has come and is also gone. Africa politically is independent. Perhaps there is still a very tiny dark spot left. The time to intensify the economic development of Africa is now not tomorrow. Yes, our immediate past was filled with pain and anguish. The time has come for us to move forward, to move ahead. For me, it is forward ever, backward never. We must look to the future with hope, for the future is bright. We have all it takes to succeed. If we expect others to do it for us, we are mistaken. Others can only give us a helping hand. Africans are to develop Africa.

There is only one route to take. It worked in ancient times. It also has worked in modern times. Africans should embrace science, technology and innovation as the key instrument for development. The pyramids of Egypt, the blast furnace of Tanzania, the great walls of Zimbabwe, the beautiful artistic work of Ife, Benin and Igbo-Ukwu in Nigeria, the Kente cloth in Ghana are some of the evidence of the technological exploits of ancient Africa. I can see a glorious future for Africa, if we deploy the tools of science, technology and innovation to the development of the Continent. In the 22nd century, just as we have been going to others to learn, the world will come to Africa not only to learn but also to live a good life where peace and prosperity will thrive. We can make the 22nd Century, the African century. We can do it. We should do it. We will do it.

I can see a ray of light showing that Africa is gradually embracing science and technology. It is estimated that over 75% of Africans have mobile telephones. Africans are using telephones to leapfrog to new technologies leaving behind older ones. New Pan African social media platforms such as Mara Online are emerging to challenge global giants such as twitter, facebook and linkedin. Ushahidi and M-PESA are some of the platforms developed to help improve citizens relationship with their governments as well as transfer money electronically. What has so far been achieved though encouraging, shows that a lot of work is yet to be done. Are we ready? I believe that we are. Africa must exploit the creativity, inventiveness and innovations of Africans.

We can no longer pay lip-service to the development of science and technology. We must see it as our future and work very hard to utilize it as an important tool for enduring and sustainable development. The current state of science and technological development is a big challenge as well as a wake-up call for us to rise up and fully embrace science, technology and innovation in biotechnology, chemical technology, food safety and security, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, space technology, etc. We may not get it right at the beginning but we can get there if we put our mind towards achieving it. We must be ready to make mistakes and accept mistakes as inevitable in the learning process. We must change our thinking to recognize and accept that research and innovation take time. We must be patient to accept this. We must also reward both hard work and achievement. As a people, we need to invest heavily in research and innovation. As of now, we are doing very little in this area. All African nations should reorder their national priorities so that in the next five years, no African nation should be spending less than 1 % of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on research and innovation. This percentage should gradually increase with time, such that in the next 25 years no African country will spend less than 3% of her GDP on research and innovation. We should work very hard to commercialise research findings. Ideas are meaningful when converted into goods and services available in the market place for the good of the people. The linkage between research institutes and industry must be strengthened just as that between universities and research institutes. Government, industry, universities and research institutes must work together for the common good.

Our research efforts for now should focus on agriculture and energy. Africa must be able to feed herself. Africa should use science and technology to aid food production, storage, safety and preservation. Africa must be secure. Africa must achieve food security. We should also achieve energy security. It is very disturbing that electricity generation in countries, south of the Sahara, excluding South Africa, is estimated to be the same as in Spain. This is not right. Africa should use science and technology to generate enough electricity to light our homes, and power our factories so as to produce the needed goods and services we urgently need. Africa can effectively utilize her unique geography to exploit solar and wind energy. Just early this month in the United Arab Emirate, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) announced the construction of the largest Concentrated Solar-Power project in the world on a single site which will begin power generation in the next five years. The project is expected to generate 1,000 megawatts by 2030. If Dubai can do this, then Africa can do far more. Generating enough electricity to light our homes, offices, schools and power our factories and laboratories will help the growth of small and medium enterprises. This will help job and wealth creation as well as reduce poverty in Africa. I specially commend Dr. Akin Adesina, President of African Development Bank for launching the AfDB New Deal on Energy for Africa to achieve universal access to energy in Africa by 2025. We should all work hard to achieve this noble goal.

Africa, though the birthplace of man, is today the home of young people. Many countries in Africa have young people, below the age of 20 years, making up half their population. This presents a great opportunity if the energy, creativity and talent of these young people are harnessed through education. Africa must invest in education, first to attain universal access such that no African child will be unable to read and write. Secondly, the education offered to these young people should emphasize science and technology. This way we will produce the best scientists and engineers to help us efficiently harness the abundant resources in the Continent for the happiness of Africans and the peace and prosperity of the world. Let us never forget that in everything we do, we should always look for the best because only the best is good enough for Africa. This will also help Africa to produce Nobel laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine. In order to facilitate African development, we must encourage the exchange of both students and teachers in our schools from one country to another. This will help technological development. We must work tirelessly to reverse the current brain drain in Africa. We must work to retain at home the best brains we have in Africa. We should use appropriate immigration policies to attract to Africa the brightest of the bright minds in other parts of the world. We must work to ensure that African universities rank among the best ten in the world. Excellence must remain the hallmark of our educational system.

It is important that Africans should start looking inwards. We should rely more on what we can do for ourselves. We should encourage trade and exchange of goods and services among our nations. We must patronize our locally manufactured goods as a way to encourage the local production of the goods and services we need. This will not only help job and wealth creation as well as poverty reduction but will also help make us self-sufficient. This will help nourish our self-pride and human dignity. We can no longer continue with our current taste for foreign goods that has left us as mere consumers and not producers. We cannot continue to import everything that we need even if they are cheaper. When we do this, we end up exporting jobs to those countries. This creates unemployment problems for us at home. Again how can we learn if we do not even give our people the chance to try? We must never be afraid of failure, because at times it is through failure that new opportunities are created. The way we are going is not good for us. Things must change. We cannot continue in this way.

As I continue to stand before you, I clearly see with the hidden eye of my mind those of our brothers and sisters who died in the Mediterranean Sea while seeking a better life as they earnestly plead that we, men and women of this generation must ensure that their death should not be in vain.

They wondered what happened to the celebrated vision, uncommon determination and exceptional hard work of the leaders of ancient Africa. They were disappointed in what had happened to the highly acknowledged ingenuity, creativity, inventive and enterprising spirit of our ancestors. They fervently prayed for a future where no African, as a result of unbearable harsh conditions at home, could become so helpless and despondent as to risk his or her life in the face of great danger as has unfortunately continued to happen with those running away to Europe for a better life.

They want us to remember them by working hard to build a New Africa where African countries will no longer be mere consumer nations but should look inward and use the huge resources available to produce enough for our needs as well as export the surplus to other nations. This way we can create enough jobs and wealth, fight poverty such that no African will be willing to sacrifice his or her life in an attempt to escape from the excruciating hardship at home. Until this is done, we cannot expect to get the respect of the rest of the world. We must never forget that respect is earned. Genuine respect can only come with achievement, when it is earned.

As I continue to listen to these invisible voices, I want to assure those our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in trying to leave Africa because of the hardship at home that things will change in the future. I can see a future where the standard of living in Africa will be such that people from other continents will be struggling to come into Africa. I commend the efforts made by many African leaders. I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for his keen interest in using science, technology and innovation for national development. I also commend President John Mahama for the work he is doing in Ghana. I believe that in building a New Africa, Nigeria has an important role to play. I also strongly believe that what Japan did for many Asians, Nigeria can do the same for many Africans. Nigeria, with the largest population and the strongest economy in Africa, is gradually moving from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. The succulent fruits of science, technology and innovation are being effectively deployed to achieve this desirable transformation needed to guarantee a diversified economy, capable of promoting sustainable growth. A strong Nigerian economy will help her play a catalytic role in the transformation of Africa, to enable the Continent attain the greatness she deserves. Nigeria cannot do it alone. We must work together. Nigeria, Ghana and other Africans working together through the effective utilization of science, technology and innovation will make Africa truly great for the happiness of Africans and the peace and prosperity of the world.

I thank you so much. May God bless Africa

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