Research and Development: The Pathway to Continental Growth

Research and Development: The Pathway to Continental Growth

The challenge before my generation transcends mere national development as an ultimate pursuit. My generation is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the continent of Africa takes her place among the comity of continental political conglomerates. We’ve been mandated by fate to ensure generations after us do not fall into the same quagmire like the one generation(s) before having consigned us to. 

There is a direct correlation between the investment made in research and development and the economic wellbeing of a nation. Commitment to research and technological development shows how passionate a country is about ensuring a safe, sound and secure future. The challenge with Africa lies in the fact that research and development do not yield immediate dividend but like a seed cast into the soil, one must always regard its harvest as one that transcends the pain of now. If Africa desires to grow, we cannot follow the path of laziness, instant gratification and a disdain for intellectualism. Hence, we must wake up to the sad reality of our very own selves – not just the colonial masters or the West (and rapidly including the Eastern powers) are quite as culpable for the misery pervading the continent.

Moving forward, governments in Africa must show an immediate change in attitude towards research and development. It would be damaging to the continent to expect our government as of the moment to commit the same volume of funds to research and development as the top ten economies do, but there is a need for a sharp and significant increase in resources committed to research and technological development. For a nation like Nigeria with an abundance of resources, it is shameful that little or no investment has been made in consolidating on some technological milestones. Take for example the inventions made in the Old Eastern Region during the Civil War – from the popular war missile (Ogbunigwe), to how they converted and weaponized commercial planes to fighter jets; the Igbos on the  Biafran side of the conflict proved their ingenuity further as they also developed Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) that derived fuel from Palm oil (the Japanese actually built charcoal powered vehicles during the 2nd World War; now they have perhaps the biggest automotive manufacturing industry the world over). The sad reality is that if all these inventions that went with the war had been consolidated by the government, Boko Haram would not be such an ‘unsolvable menace’ and perhaps, we would have been a global military powerhouse with nuclear capacity. 

Our responsibility is a matter of urgency for we cannot afford to fail. A research conducted by Brenthurst Foundation shows that by 2050, more than half of the world population would be living in Africa and of this population, over 65% would reside in urban areas and over 60% would be made up of youths within the 18-35 years age bracket. The research further stated that 95% of youths in Africa will be connected to the Internet by the year 2050, while Europe and Asia’s aging population is expected to grow at a decline rate, i.e the numbers of adults will outnumber the youth. This means that come 2050, Africa will be home to the world’s workforce. The Brenthurst foundation report also shows that Africa’s economy will experience a significant decrease in growth unlike what she experienced between 1998 to 2010 and this is due to a decline in the purchase of her commodity by China. Permit me to explain the last sentence; the years 1998 to 2010 were referred to as Africa fat years because there was an increase in demand for her commodity by China. Africa’s economy has hitherto been a commodity or natural resource-dependent, but as China transitions from a manufacturing economy to one focused on services and consumption, it is expected to have a direct impact on Africa’s economy except something drastic is done.

My generation cannot afford to place blame continually on our predecessors. As we gradually assume the position of leadership and take over the baton of responsibility, we must begin to devise means to prevent this looming danger if we do not want to experience another set of (deadlier) Arab Springs. One such thing we must pay urgent attention to is the field of research and development. Data from UNESCO showing how much nations invested in research and development shows the stark contrast between global powers (aka developed economies) and their still-developing counterparts. Where nations like  United State invested $476.5B, China $370.6B, and Japan $170.5B, the highest in Africa was Egypt who invested $6.1B, South Africa $5B, Nigeria and Morocco invested $1.4B and $1.5B respectively to make the Billions up.

 We cannot put all the blame at the doorstep of the government, our corporations must also invest in research and stop depending on the government. Amazon (a private corporation for that matter) spent $22.6B on research according to Statista, while other corporations like Alphabet and Volkswagen invested $16.2 and $15.8 respectively for the year ended 2018. The least of these exceeds the top four economies in Africa combined in terms of research spending. Our corporations may not be capable of competing on this level, but they can establish and fund research institutes, partner and invest in patent ideas, fund our institutes of technology and sponsor innovation-oriented projects. Some can even choose a special field to commit themselves. The manufacturing companies in Nigeria, for instance, should have tapped into the abundance of talent in Aba by funding researches that would have been beneficial to us all.

Lastly, wealthy individuals must begin to commit their resources to research and technological development and follow in the footsteps of their wealthy colleagues on other continents who commit a significant portion of their wealth to research, instead of making unnecessary donations to charity and buying vehicles for the military and police. While we are not saying these in themselves are bad, we advocate strongly that priority should be given to projects with wider reach and far greater impact across the nation, continent and over generations. 

Africa’s development is a collective and generational responsibility.

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