Francis E. Ogbimi argues that Africa will only claim the century if the continent mobilises its citizens for learning and industrialisation

Can Africa Claim the 21st Century? is the report of a study carried out by the World Bank and released in May 2000. The report found out that Africa’s total GDP income, per capita output at the end of the 20th century was lower than it was 30 years earlier in the 1970s. The number of poor people had grown relentlessly. The Bank noted in the report that the retrogression had to do with growing income inequality, uneven access to resources, social exclusion and insecurity. The Bank also noted that the growing poverty in Africa is reflected in health and education parameters. In many nations in Africa the report found out that 200 out of every 1000 children died before the age of five. More than 250 million of the continent’s 600 million had no access to safe water and 200 million did not have access to basic health services.

I do not agree with the position of the World Bank as to the cause of stagnation and retrogression in Africa. Africa’s planning has always been influenced by the World Bank and other economists who do not understand the human development process. African nations started with National Development Plans just after independence. Nigeria for example implemented four National Development Plans in the period 1962 – 1985. The World Bank and IMF then introduced to African nations the African Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the early 1980s. African nations including Nigeria are still implementing the SAPs.

I have analyzed the Nigerian National Plans and the SAPs in a book entitled, “Understanding Why Privatisation Is Promoting Unemployment and Poverty and Delaying Industrialisation in Africa, F. E. Ogbimi (2007),” and showed that the National Plans and SAPs lacked growth-promoting elements. They contain daydreaming-objects with no corresponding activities to achieve them. The National Plans and SAPs were based on the fallacious claim that ‘once capital is invested growth ensues.’

Our research revealed that all the industrialized nations of today had agricultural economies and were confronted by mass unemployment, poverty and insecurity problems for many centuries. The problems disappeared when the nations achieved the modern industrial revolution. We therefore theorized that industrialization is the true solution to unemployment, poverty and insecurity. Hence any nation working to eliminate unemployment, poverty and insecurity problems must put industrialization as priority objective. Indeed, the World Bank in its World Development Report (!998), stated that technological knowledge means know-how; those countries which possess less of it are caught in the poverty bracket. Poor countries, the bank continued, and indeed poor people are not able to compete in the global system not because they do not have capital, or other material resources, but because they have less knowledge. True, the difference between the agricultural-economies in Africa on the one hand and the technologically advanced economies in Europe, America and Asia on the other hand, is a matter of difference in the level of knowledge, skills and competences (KSCs) possessed and applied by the citizens.

History shows that the wealthy nations learnt laissez-faire (very slowly) over many centuries, accumulated knowledge, skills and competences and achieve the modern industrial revolution (IR). All the good things in Europe, America and Asia today – high productivity and productive agriculture; good, adequate and reliable infrastructure; high standard of living; etc., are fruits of the IR. The process through which an agricultural economy is converted into an industrialized one is scientific. Economists including those in the World Bank, other social sciences, accountants, bankers, lawyers, others, do not understand it hence they cannot plan for African nations to achieve industrialization.

In the address to the nation by President Muhammadu Buhari on the EndSARS Protests, 22ND October, 2020, item 12 of the address read: Government has put in place measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in our society. These include our broad plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years; the creation of 75 billion National Youth Investment Fund to provide opportunities for the youths and the Micro, Small and Medium (MSME) Survival Fund, through which government is: a) paying three months salaries of staff of 100,000 micro, small – and medium enterprises, b) paying for the registration of 250, 000 businesses at the Corporate Affairs Commission, c) giving a grant of N30,000 to 300,000 artisans; and d) guaranteeing market for the products of traders. The 13th item of the address added: These are in addition to many other initiatives such as: a) Farmermoni, b)Tradermoni, c) Marketmoni, d) N-power, e) N-Tech and f) N-Agro. These activities which President Buhari boasts about are at best tokenism with respect to promoting industrialization and solving poverty and insecurity problems.

Our research revealed that learning (education, training, employment and research) is the primary source of Sustainable Economic Growth and Industrialization (SEGI). The history of the economic, social and political statuses of mankind is that of his learning. All human beings are born as crying-babies. The baby soon begins to babble (to learn how to talk) and later talks. The baby who could not babble grows up to be a dumb adult. Just as the baby acquires the capabilities to talk through learning, so s/he acquires every other capability through learning. If a society possesses the capabilities to manufacture many scientific products, the people must have acquired the relevant knowledge, skills and capabilities. The intrinsic values of the learning-people appreciate with time and learning intensity. Hence the progress of the learning-people was modeled by an increasing function. Scaling of our model yielded an equation we described as the MOBILIZATION equation, because it suggested that a nation may mobilize her citizens and achieve industrialization in a few decades. The equation also suggested that the technological growth of a nation may by measured by five learning-related variables. They are: one, the number of people employed in the economy, N; two, the average level of education and training of the workforce, M; three, the linkages among the various knowledge and skills, L; four, the learning rate or intensity, r; and five, the experience of the workforce – the effective time the people have been learning and accumulated knowledge, skills and competences, n. All the variables are directly related to the sustainable economic growth achievable as the citizens of a nation learn. These are the variables a nation aspiring to become industrialized should measure, not GDP growth.

Africa will not claim the 21st century if the continent still prefers to throw money at all problems. Yes, Africa will claim the 21st century, if the continent mobilizes all its citizens for learning and industrialization like Japan did 1886-1905 and China did 1949-now.