|African Unification Front
|AUF POLICY ON TECHNOLOGY
THE NEED TO ACKNOWLEDGE AFRICAN TECHNOLOGY
The AUF aims to:
 Augment research facilities in Africa with the help of an African Research Council, as a branch of the executive and legislative organs of the African Parliament;
 Set aside a fund to help end brain-drain through administrative and fiscal mechanisms;
 Offer training in technical skills pertinent to local needs in agriculture, water, credit, veterinary medicine, health, and education,as well as small finance and marketing;
 Strengthen capacities of local leaders in skills such as running meetings, deciding on action, building local alliances, implementing project activity, and managing relations with international and local NGOs and corporations;
 Open research efforts on scaling up local priorities and resource contributions to district and regional levels; and
 Introducing community-based monitoring and evaluation.
We must build on those African technologies that Africa has already, in
addition to the technologies of the future. The process of creating
techology must remain respectful of African community coherence. It is no
longer acceptable to destroy communities on account of technological
advancement. Therefore the process of establishing technology must be
community friendly, and must actively avoid undermining the values of
community and African family bonds.
Another goal of technology in African is efficient and better use of
time and wealth, as well as to facilitate human interation. African
technologies which are proven to be superior in achieving these goals
still face competition from inferior and yet more technologies from abroad.
There is an immense amount of African technologies, and technical
capacity that needs to be acknowledged, integrated and promoted. African
technologies present brilliant and unusual solutions to age old human
problems. The technical sophistry and level of skills that individuals in
Africa have aquired can be amazing.
The key advancements in African technology have been in small scale
farming, microcredit (which has now been adapted in North America and
is the fastest growing sector in financing), construction, tsetse fly
control, infection control, and of course the modification and adaptation
of foreign technologies for African needs.
Livestock breeding and rearing have produced hardy stocks of cattle,
camels, sheep and other creatures. However because of failure to fully
appreciate the achievements of stock farmers, in addition to weak economic
activity, African breeders are no longer able to function as they used
to in the past.
Through grafting and other domestic crop management systems, African
farmers now have the largest stocks of food varieties on earth. Africa
has more plantain species than the rest of the world, thanks to scientist
farmers in Africa.
AFRICANS ARE SHAPING WORLD TECHNOLOGIES
The forces shaping globalisation trends are very much at the mercy of
human cultures. The changing nature of goods and services, the
changing notions about resources and commerce, and the role of
information and communication technologies may be harnessed in order
to augment Africa's technologies.
The responses and concerns of Africans have a hand in structuring future
developments in technology around the world. The list of famous African
scientists whose contributions have become indespensible to the producti-
on of technology, or who have created new technologies, is long. However,
many of the Africans whose efforts are critical to technological advance-
ment do not receive recognition for their inventions. Many Africans are
still victimised by the neocolonialist system, in their unrewarded creat-
ivity, stolen inventions, underfunded inventions, and in their exploita-
tion of their labour and ideas through massive brain-drain.
Geo-information in African developement is becoming more important, as it
become more clear that occurences in one region impact on another region
on the continent. Data infrastructure, have always played an important
role in the lives of Africans.
The government of unity must actively encourage all kinds of commun-
ities to have access to the means and skills that will allow them to be
represented at levels where their technological concerns can be addressed
adequately. Key among the means for technological integration is sensiti-
vity to the human concerns in appropriate communication of knowledge.
The transformative process must be respectful of the sense of wholeness
of the African, and must be designed to interface with, and support, the
integrity of the participants self-expression, operative rhythm, and
intuition. Africans must not be coerced.
Every technological concerns must take into account their observations,
suggestions, modifications for functionality and maintenance.
African technological derivaties and innovations appear to present
uniquely. That means that African technologies will not necessarily
assume the methods, structures, or purpose of the technologies from other
regions. Technology from different cultures expresses a distinct ethos.
Therefore there must be a concerted effort to identify and augment
uniquely African technological advancements and manifestations.
What is wrong with technology policy in Nigeria<'font>
By Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka
Maastricht, the Netherlands
Saturday, April 7, 2001
A landmark study by Robert Solow in 1956, demonstrated statistically, the
significance of technology in the economic growth process. In his study of
the causes of manufacturing growth in the United States over the 1911-'56
period, it was concluded that only 12.5 per cent of the observed labour
productivity growth (output per worker) "could be explained by increments
in the stock of capital". The remaining 87.5 per cent was an unaccounted
for 'residual', or unexplained 'technological change' or 'improvement
productivity'. Ever since Solow, a lot of work had been done to understand
the content of the residual, although our understanding of its nature
An important fallout of this groundbreaking work was the affirmation of
technology as a central force in economic development. Thenceforth,
considerable human and material resources have been directed into the
formulation and implementation of technology policies in developing
countries. Formulating and implementing technology policies necessarily
had to be supported with institutional structures as well as considerable
human capital, largely analysts and public administrators. The institutional
forms for Science and Technology (S & T) policy making in Less Developed
Countries (LDCs) emerged in the form of S & T ministries and 'commissions'.
However, much of what is taken for technology policies are no more than
statements of policy intentions. Even then not all LDCs have formulated
policies for technology. But there are even more serious concerns. First,
where S & T policy institutions exist, they are peripheral to the top-level
decision-making machinery of government and to the overall planning process.
Second, and arising from above, technology policies are often seen as being
unrelated to the pressing socio-economic needs of these societies, where a
large percentage of business exist in the so-called `informal sector' which employ relatively unsophisticated techniques of production. Third, as a result of the antecedent history of science policy, which regards basic science as the foundation of all technical activities, developing countries devoted the largest proportion of S & T budget allocations to funding Research and Development Institutions (RDIs). These RDIs which by all accounts remain isolated and alienated from the productive firms, are themselves structurally weak, grossly under funded, and quite often remain unable to meet the critical financial and human thresholds for conducting profitable research. This is not to deny the important contributions made particularly in agricultural and food processing in a number of African countries. However, the overall value added to manufacturing of these innovations such as "soy-ogi", palm wine processing and the like-to the overall wealth of our country-is relatively small.
Again, the aims of technology policy are usually too broad, complex, and inevitably conflicting in the goals they set to achieve. Distilled in concise terms, these objectives fall into five main broad goals and they are: to improve the efficiency of technology transfer from foreign suppliers to local users; to improve the efficiency of operation of technology; broaden and strengthen the industrial base; developing indigenous technological capability; and smoothening "adjustment" forced by the demise of the prevailing technologies and the need to assimilate new ones.
Each of these objectives contain within it, complex variables and each demand in turn, differentiated policy instruments that depend on context as much as on time and level of economic development. In order to accommodate the complexities inherent in technology policy formulation and implementation, we define science and technology policy analysis as "being concerned with how and why social units commit scarce resources to science and technology, what sorts of problems arise in so doing, and what sorts of improvements might be made". Conceived in this manner, S & T policy becomes a social policy, taking into account context, time, and myriad socio-economic alternatives. It is within this framework that the assessment of Nigeria's technology policy and institutions should be located
Since the 1960s, the need for Nigeria to formulate some guiding principles and policies for the advancement of technology was recognized. The country therefore proceeded to create institutions through the establishment of National Research Councils or similar bodies, whose responsibility was to oversee Science and Technology Policy. The UNESCO which was at the forefront of this major endeavour, refers to Science and Technology Policy as comprising: "all research and experimental development (R & D) operations, including scientific and technological services (STS) as well as to the transfer and innovation process which ensures effective use of discoveries and inventions in the national economy".
With this definition, S & T policy was delimited to R & D. The boundary for policy would then be concerned primarily with: funding resources for R & D; and planning the allocation of funds between various R & D agencies and so on.
This variant of S & T policy, which led to the creation of these institutions, was not too concerned with how to forge linkages with the productive sector-the-end-users. However, the issues involved are too well known and will not be repeated but we will examine briefly the conceptual foundation that informed this approach.
The most influential idea that shaped the kind of institutional forms and the consequent interrelationships that we presently operationalize, is what is generally referred to as the `pipeline model'. The premise of the model is simple: "new knowledge from `basic' research in science flowed through `applied' technological research and development, to generate economic benefits from the introduction of new technologies as 'innovations'.
A sharp conceptual dichotomy was thus introduced between producers (R&D institutes and the like) and users of knowledge (the productive enterprise). While scientists and technologists are considered to be interested in one end of the pipeline, economists and entrepreneurs are supposed to be interested in the output - at the other end of the pipeline. Technological actors were thus separated into two separate compartments. On the one hand are the technologically active and creative sheep (scientists and technologists engaged in R & D, and engineers in the capital goods sector). These scientists do research and produced knowledge for the rest of the economy. In the economy, "technologically passive goats" appropriate the results of the creative sheep and use them. Conceived thus, the pipeline largely exists by and for itself. It is outside the economic mainstream. The flaw in this model is easily borne out by the facts - R & D institutions (RDIs) and the universities have little or nothing to discuss with the producing firms. The consequence is that the pipeline model created a disarticulated and incoherent system, in which the linkage between science, technology and economic development policies in Africa, including Nigeria, where they exist at all, are very weakly coupled. This has been brought about because in the ideal world of this "sheep-goat" model, there are no feedback paths within the ongoing work of development processes, there are no formal links between the Industry and S&T Ministry for instance, in formulating a coherent policy for SME support system.
Apart from the conditions that fostered systemic disarticulation, the linear model misses a crucial point, and this because, the central process of innovation is NOT Science but DESIGN. A design in some form is essential to initiating technical innovations, and redesigns are essential to ultimate success. Following from the above, had science truly been the initiating step in innovation, we would never have invented the ordinary bicycle. This is also true for the steam engine because the invention of the steam engine led to the creation of the science of thermodynamics. Examples abound but suffice to say that this conceptualization of the innovative process is highly flawed and does not reflect reality. Reliance on this model has led to the structural incoherence and limited technological dynamism that characterize the economies of African countries that rely on it as a theoretic model for technological development. Our attempt at institutional imitation that assumes as constant, the context, evolutionary history, and other specific conditions of the adopter is bound to miss very crucial points. Countries now regarded as industrialized had gone through certain developmental stages before arriving at the point at which both public and private R&D institutions play significant roles. We are likely to be some one hundred years behind most of these countries in strict economic developmental terms, but that in no way obviates the need for R&D. A simple-minded emulation of structures and policies is not enough and the time has come to introduce innovations in the formulation of policies for development. I want to suggest that, the central objective of development policy, which inevitably includes technology policy, in backward areas like ours is the promotion of rapid industrialization, that is mindful of the changed global economic environment( of knowledge-based, human capital driven, rules-based competition), taking into account, our unfinished business of episodic transfer of technology processes of the last thirty years.
In the technology policy review that is currently going on in our country, I suggest that we think out new ways of fulfilling the objective of rapid industrialization. This will mean shunning the well beaten path of instinctively emulating models of successful areas that may well be inappropriate for this great country.
Before discussing the specific organizing principles for a new technology policy, let me make an observation on precisely some of these changes. There are in general two levels of policy making at which there have been dramatic changes in the last decade. These are: the macro level that defines the legal and regulatory environment; and the micro level that deals with the strategies for promoting firm-level competitiveness. At both levels the changes pertain to the promotion of networking efficiency through provision of training, research and extension delivery services. Left alone, the constraints to individual Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which is the dominant sector in which we have the most widespread indigenous ownership, centre around: inadequate capital and skills; restrictive macroeconomic environment (policy and legal framework) and infrastructural constraints. Consequently, much of the efforts to assist SMEs have been directed at setting up institutions and schemes to provide real services which may involve direct assistance for designing, building of prototypes, conducting feasibility studies, making choice of suppliers , and training; providing credit and credit services for SMEs.
While there have been isolated success cases, we now have overwhelming evidence to justify continuous public support. This support will be provided collectively to clusters of firms, rather than give technology support to individual firms. The central lesson is that technology policy should direct support primarily, but not limited to, SMEs, based on the following organizing principles:
Collective, rather than response to individual requests;
Public intervention should be focused and strategic;
Technology support should be designed around the sectoral needs of industrial clusters;
Technology support should be channeled through private sector local representatives and self-help bodies such as industry associations working in concert with relevant government agencies;
Support should be demand-oriented, and customer-driven rather than top-down and supply-driven.
Progressively decentralize support functions to states, local governments and community and regional levels;
Flexible, bottom-up, and participatory
Bunch-up services such as finance, training, and innovation support rather than render each service separately. For instance, "Technology and Business Support Service Centers", could be created around major industrial clusters such as Nnewi/Aba/Onitsha; Ikeja/Isolo/Sango-Otta, Kano/Kaduna, and Port Harcourt combining purely technology services with business support. Business support may include assisting small and medium enterprise firms with feasibility studies, tax consulting, information collection on local and foreign markets, sources and nature of alternative raw materials and so on. Accelerated and high quality infrastructural services should be directed to such clusters in form of : electrical power, communication, roads and water supply.
The purpose of technology policy intervention is to enhance horizontal and vertical ties among enterprises, promote collective efficiency, speed up technological learning, foster wide inter-industry linkages, respond to market and reduce transaction costs. Presently, there is very limited or no impact of existing technology policy on productive enterprises. The pursuit of high technology such as the acquisition of earth orbiting satellite technology, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Biotechnology, are inevitable and should be strongly supported. Hwever, we will succeed only to the extent that the domestic engineering sector (including electrical, electronics, chemical and mechanical sub-sectors) are sufficiently well developed to provide ancilliary services and to make available, a wide range of spare parts and consumables. The invisible world of electrons and neutrons, is made possible only by the less elegant, and visible world of gears and motors.
We must always keep in mind that the sole purpose technology policy is to serve a social purpose: to eradicate poverty and to provide quality lifestyle for Nigerians. Our engineering and chemical sectors remain embryonic several years after the country embarked on bold moves for industrialization through the acquisition of foreign technology viz: acquisition of iron and steel, pulp and paper, petrochemicals and others. This was supposed to be complimented with concomitant endogenous technology acquisition. We now know that much of the plans and objectives were right on target, what we need to rethink is why both objectives failed so woefully. Corruption and poor industrial governance did play a large role and a review of strategy for the 21st Century need take a second look at what went wrong. Nigeria does not have another thirty years to industrialize and as we all know, a new rules-based global environment makes a reprise, absolutely unfeasible. The S&T Council will do well to examine closely most of the existing documents including the enormous materials used for formulating Nigeria’s Vision 2010, never minding the Abacha factor! The Council will profit enormously also by wide consultations, and by being open-minded to suggestions from entrepreneurs as much as we are wont, to scientists and engineers.
Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka is professor of Technology Management and is presently with the United Nations University /Institute for New Technologies (UNU/INTECH), Maastricht, the Netherlands.