Africa’s Key Innovation Pillar

Africa’s Key Innovation Pillar

Africans delight on their oral tradition of folklore. In many African villages, boys and girls gather around their elders to listen to stories of hope, imagination, bravery and justice.

These students of culture are expected to pass that tradition to newer generations. For many centuries, Africans have lived that life – a life of ‘more talking, less writing’.

It helped shape family values and embedded the spirit of service and honor. For generations, except Ethiopians, no African culture was able to develop a top-grade  indigenous way of writing.

Contracts were executed with words, marriages were concluded with words, lands were sold with words, and indeed all was about the memory of the human species. When neighbors disagree over land, an arbiter would come in to settle the disputes by telling stories his own parents or elders had passed to him.

Typically, Africans like to talk. That was the tradition. It has remained like that and will be the same for many generations to come. While the western world works to document on black and white or in modern times on bytes and bits, we are just making progress in our rural communities.

Many African universities have no organized way of processing massive data or ideas that emanate from their students theses, projects or dissertations. At the end of every academic year, student dissertations are burnt, to make temporary room for new ones.

It is the culture and no one has found a solution for that. Only few of those works made it to the university library. Years after years, we are burning ideas that can unlock the future of better harvest, and curing diseases that corporations think make no economic sense to invest resources.

William Kamkwamba built a windmill for his family electricity needs (source: wikimedia)

Notwithstanding, many of the works are still done outside Africa and in most cases their contributions are overlooked. And Africans do not make things easier by not having histories since they rarely keep records. So, how do you assess their capabilities? Very tough and the vicious circle continues unabated.

Strange as it may seem, but that is the reality of many African schools where we run round in cycles wasting time without making progress. When you destroy your progress, you have to repeat it.

Instead of preserving legacies which can be built upon, we have students solving a problem someone that graduated a year before had solved. With no means of sharing data or documenting these works, innovation suffers.

Besides, it hurts the students because they spend money to recreate processes which had been validated a few years ago. It brings a tradition of constantly managing crises without a process to envision bold world changing ideas. They deprive the schools opportunities to attract funding because no one knows what they do. They are rarely published because local conferences are not common.

What Do We Do?

I think that a continental level effort must be put in place by African Union to ensure that all projects, theses or dissertations from any African institution are preserved and accessible on the internet. The NEPAD mission cannot stop in infrastructure and industries, they need to also examine the production and preservation of African works. This is very important as it will make our schools effective and more focused.

This does not have to be expensive. Schools will be encouraged to have websites or portals for this need. The website must be designed in a way that students upon approvals from their schools can post the works themselves. It promises to become a way to help the world know our contributions to knowledge. It can also help the world get refreshed with new ideas and perspectives.

What we are doing today has to change for us to make progress in technology and innovation. We need to document at scale. That is the pillar that will drive our efforts to become a region that can generate new ideas and also commercialize them. If we cannot document the little progress we have made, it will be hard for us to have the capabilities to advance towards the upper level of the technology pyramid.

 


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