<html><head /> <body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>Africa's Technological Challenge</title><meta name="keywords" content="development,digital,economy,education,globalisation,health,henrietta,industrial,information,internet,knowledge,labour,manufacturing,moore,mortality,productivity,weightlessness,africa,technology,communications,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">Africa's Technological Challenge</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction</strong></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><IMG SRC="auth_Moore.JPG" WIDTH="100" HEIGHT="146" ALT="Moore" VSPACE="10" HSPACE="10" BORDER="0" ALIGN="right"> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The breakneck pace of industrial development during the late twentieth century bypassed Africa. Rusting tractors littering the African landscape pay testament to the failure of past manufacturing technologies. In this paper, Henrietta Moore (right) reflects on the possibility of Africa leapfrogging over this failed period of development to exploit nascent communications, information and digital technologies.</span> <P> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Moore suggests that, in an era of rapid de-industrialisation, Africa's best option may be to participate in this new "weightless economy," where the value of something is measured not by the pound but by the information attached to it.</span><br><br><span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The "development" conundrum</strong></span><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The popular and the academic are not closed spheres of activity and interest; they intersect in myriad ways, each forming the imagination of the other. One of the most obvious instances concerns language: phrases, terms, assertions and apocrypha. What begin as academic concepts enter popular discourse and find new meanings and resonances; for example, Freud's notion of the unconscious. What arise as matters of general public discussion find their way into academic debates and become codified, specified and quite changed in shape from their humble beginnings such as ideas about the nature of persons or the characteristics of society. The traffic down this two-way street has a long history, and many terms, ideas and concepts cross back and forth between the two domains several times, creating a curious genealogical narrative that can no longer be traced to its origin point.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">One peculiar feature of such boundary crossing is that it creates the illusion of transparency. There are certain terms, phrases and concepts that may seem to be so obvious in their meaning that they require no further discussion. However, this transparency is an illusion. This is not just because meanings and understandings shift over time--frequently as the result of political pressure--but also because one of the roles of the academy in modern society is to take up terms, phrases, concepts and apocrypha and subject them to re-evaluation and critical reappraisal. And such re-evaluations eventually enter the popular domain of public life only to produce and undergo further shifts in meaning.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">One such term and/or concept in relation to Africa is "development." One of the problems with "development" is that the term has a transparency of meaning and can generally be understood without much searching of heart and mind. It is a concept and a term that has crossed back and forth between the academy and the domains of public discourse, politics, international and social policy, business and development practice in both developed and developing countries. It has been subjected to much critique and to many revisions, often with notable practical consequences.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I start with this point not because I wish to enter a debate about development per se, but because it provides me with an opportunity to discuss the latest term or concept to cross back and forth between the academy, politics, business and development practice in relation to Africa. "Development" is a term that has acquired an astounding currency, becoming what one might call the gold standard of the new millennium, and not just in relation to Africa.</span><br><br><span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>Redressing Africa's twentieth-century failure</strong></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Development intervention in Africa went through something of a low point in the 1980s, as economies and political systems faltered in many African states. The 1990s did not see massive improvements, but suddenly the chimera of development is on the agenda again. However, this time it is being driven by the notion of the knowledge economy and the revolution in information technology on which it depends. "Knowledge economy" is a term that has become increasingly popular over the past decade, and it is one, like "development," that has a certain self-evident meaning. Olugbenga Adesida's 1998 article in the <I>African Development Review</I>, "Information, Knowledge and Africa's Development," asserts: "If Africa is not to lose the twenty-first century, the continent must earnestly begin to explore where it lies in the new knowledge-intensive global economy."</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The theme of much discussion about Africa, globalisation and the new knowledge economy is that the continent has lost the opportunities of the twentieth century--the chance for development through industrialisation--but that there is now new scope to ensure that Africa takes advantage of the fresh possibilities offered by the twenty-first century. Some of this discussion is very messianic and millennial in tone. Nicholas Negroponte, the founder and director of the Media Lab at MIT, argues that information technology will allow developing countries to leapfrog over their failed period of industrial development, to jump a stage by making use of the Internet and associated digital technologies. The extraordinary vision of the potential for change associated with such technologies is captured by the title of Negroponte's 1998 article in <I>Wired</I> magazine, "The Third Shall Be the First."</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Despite the excitement surrounding the possibilities of these technologies, there has been little discussion of whether the changes promised are going to be qualitatively or quantitatively different from past technologies such as electricity, railways, aeroplanes and the telephone, which also had the potential to transform human lives in the developing world. Technology transfer has been behind many development policies and activities in Africa from the early decades of the twentieth century. The results were frequently disappointing. Monuments like rusting tractors attest to the fact that the transfer of technology cannot work without the physical and human resources to sustain it and without regard for the social, economic and environmental context into which it is parachuted. It therefore comes as no surprise that critics of the development of information technology in Africa point to obsolete and incompatible machines, lack of training and support, and lack of donor coordination--all old problems that new technology can do little about. So, will information and communication technologies make a difference in Africa in the way other technologies have not?</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There are three basic positions underpinning the answer to this question. The first simply states that Africa has no choice, that information technology and the knowledge economy are driving the global economy. If Africa does not participate, then a technology gap will open up that will result in a huge welfare deficit and increased poverty for the continent. The second position follows that of Negroponte, and argues that information technology will accelerate growth and will help to reduce the income gaps between rich and poor countries. The third strand of the argument does not focus narrowly on either the benefits or the weakness of information technologies themselves but, rather, on the needs of the poorest groups in Africa. Why do you need a computer if you don't have fresh water and adequate food? Let the important things come first.</span><br><br><span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The new weightless economy</strong></span><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The social and economic effects of the information revolution can be felt all around us, and we do not need to turn to academic analysis for evidence that the scale and speed of change is marked. The more difficult question, however, is how to assess and measure the impact of that change. Without such analysis we cannot know if the effects of the knowledge economy and the new information technologies will be specifically different from other forms of technology.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The first point is that the knowledge economy is different because it is dematerialised, based on ideas rather than on things. Africa's poverty during the last century was identified in terms of objects or things, notably physical and human capital. Danny Quah argues that weightlessness, or the dematerialisation of production, is characteristic of modern economies, in which an increasing share of gross domestic product resides in goods that have little material manifestation, such as financial services, electronic data sets and media entertainment. The economic value of such goods is largely independent from the physical means of their distribution. What drives this increase in weightlessness in the global economy is the digitalisation of production and consumption, so that more and more products and services become idea-like goods.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Why does this matter to Africa? The swift answer is because it will have a major impact on market share and labour productivity, two things that have direct consequences for income, quality of life and welfare. Over the past 20 years, Africa's traditional exports have been increasingly displaced by new and sometimes more efficient producers from other regions, and the continent's overall trade share fell from approximately 6 percent in 1980 to 2.1 percent in 1995. In their 1998 paper "Information Technology and the Challenge of Economic Development," Temitope Oshikoya and Nureldin Hussain point out that key markets in cocoa, coffee, timber and other products, markets that were lost, have not been replaced. In addition, many African countries have undergone de-industrialisation over the past two decades, with the real rate of growth of manufacturing value-added declining over the period. The result is that Africa's traditional market share has declined without corresponding substitutions elsewhere. The globalisation of the knowledge economy can only exacerbate this trend, as the application of new knowledge increasingly becomes the main factor of international competitiveness.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Such knowledge will become the major factor influencing labour productivity, a development that is likely to intensify historic problems in labour supply and productivity. Labour productivity is largely determined by human capital, which is in turn dependent upon educational and health status. T.P. Schultz's 1998 economic research paper "The Formation of Human Capital and the Economic Development of Africa" and the World Bank's 1999 development report on "Knowledge for Development" agree that human capital needs to be analysed over time, since the health and schooling of one generation affect those of the following generation.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Education initially improved in Africa between the 1960s and the 1980s. Between 1970 and 1980, annual primary-school enrollments increased at a rate of 8.9 percent, but in the 1980s the rate of enrollment started to slow down, and from 1980 to 1990 Africa's primary-school-age population grew at an average annual rate of only 3.3 percent. Oshikoya and Hussain explain that by 1995 Africa experienced low net enrollment ratios for primary, secondary and tertiary education.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There are clear indications that health limitations are a massive burden on the productive potential of adults in Africa. Africa has achieved notable health gains in the past 40 years--life expectancy at birth increased from about 40 years in 1960 to more than 53 years in 1995, and between 1960 and 1995 infant mortality rates were nearly halved, to 89 per 1,000 births. In spite of these improvements, African countries are still burdened by ill health: the maternal mortality rate is 630 per 100,000 live births; more than 20 million people are HIV-positive; and poor nutrition, environmental conditions and inadequate health services are serious problems. In the opinion of analysts such as T.P. Schultz, poor levels of health have been the most significant hindrance to Africa's development in recent decades. Health development, per capita income and secondary-school enrollment are strongly associated, and it is notable that poor health is linked with low levels of education, particularly for females.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Information technology may be rapidly changing economic and social activities, but in many African countries the majority of the workforce is poorly placed to participate in the knowledge economy. As knowledge becomes the main driving force behind international competitiveness and the growth in labour productivity globally, the workforce of the continent could see further declines in competitiveness and productivity.</span><br><br><span style="font-size:medium; ">Relevant links</span><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><A HREF="http://www.wired.com/wired/6.01/negroponte.html" TARGET="_blank">Nicholas Negroponte's 1998 article "The Third Shall Be the First," from <I>Wired</I></A></BR><A HREF="http://www.wired.com/wired/6.01/negroponte.html" TARGET="_blank">(www.wired.com/wired/6.01/negroponte.html)</A></span><br><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><A HREF="http://www.worldbank.org/wdr/" TARGET="_blank">The World Bank's annual World Development Report (WDR)</A><BR><A HREF="http://www.worldbank.org/wdr/" TARGET="_blank">(www.worldbank.org/wdr/)</A></span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science</span></td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>