If we don’t industrialise, we will remain enslaved to the industrialised nations

Develop me: Tapiwa Gomo

THE imminent rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires us to pose and reflect on what transpired over the last centuries which led to Western countries becoming more advanced than others. But it also allows us to understand how Africa found itself where it is today in relations to previous three industrial revolutions that occurred over the centuries. Perhaps, with the benefit of that reflection, we may, as a continent in general and as specific countries, forge a new way of out of our under-development drawing from the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution.

By the way, this is a follow up to the last two instalments where in the first one, I highlighted the global tensions arising from the 5G technology between China and the United States, including the global power dynamics around it. In last week’s instalment I briefly highlighted the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but I also indicated why African academics have been missing the point by focusing on the political dimension of development instead of the economic side of things.

In this instalment, I am going to argue that the way our knowledge on the history of Africa is framed is one of the underlying reasons the continent has not been able to catch up with other continents. There has been an over-investment of time and resources in imparting historical knowledge on how Africa has been badly treated by other continents, mainly the West. The themes of colonialism, expropriation of resources and slave trade have been central in our arts, song, dance, literature, academic studies and international relations.

And indeed these were painful epochs, but spending nearly a century mourning over them is neither going to help Africa develop nor will it stop other continents from repeating the same in the present or future. In any case, the study of history is supposed to help understand the past and to enable the re-configuration of the future and help in creating it and not necessarily to perpetuate mourning. Africans, including those in the diaspora have not moved on and strategised a way forward that helps them to stay ahead of the global curve like others.

Our study of history, instead of giving us wide opportunities to get better, ours teaches us about how evil Western countries were during the colonial and slave trade period without necessarily telling us why these countries embarked on such inhuman ventures. It continues to tell us how bad Western countries are for maintaining their hold on our raw materials without telling us why it is that way. We have been preoccupied with this unfairness of the north-south relationship without necessarily focusing on efforts to balance the relationship.

The rise of the first industrial revolution in Britain’s textile industry in the mid-18th century and spreading to other European countries due to the mechanisation of spinning and weaving, triggered growing demand for agriculture and labour to service the emerging economies. The growth of the textile industry had a knock on effect which transformed other existing industries and improved efficiency in the productive sectors resulting in a shift in both global cooperation and competition for resources. A new system of value production, exchange and distribution emerged which led to economic growth of Western countries.

It was these developments that triggered the spread of colonialism, slave trade and environmental degradation in Africa as Western countries that were becoming increasingly wealthier looked for more labour and raw material resources. This is contrary to what we have been taught that white men despise black people.

Otherwise Westerners would not have come to Africa if it were not for the need for human and natural resources for their industry. And with increasing wealth concentrated in industrialised nations, so did the growth of political and military power to the extent that the second and the third industrial revolutions maintained the status quo thereby further widening the gap between the developed and the under-developed.

This, however, did not mean the non-existence of opportunities for those countries that were not industrialised. History has shown that ideas can be borrowed and countries can industrialise if their leadership decides to pursue that route. Much of these lessons can be drawn from the Asian and Middle-Eastern countries who have made a decision to pursue industrialisation instead of politics. History also taught us that a leadership that views development as an act of donation or kindness from those who previously exploited them is one that perpetuates their countries’ poverty. Sadly, this is the case in most African countries. And in doing so, we have prioritised politics over economic development.

And as the Fourth Industrialisation Revolution dawns on the horizon of a new wave of economic development, it is worth repeating that, if we do not take advantage of available opportunities to industrialise, our people will continue to be directly or indirectly enslaved by industrialised nations and our natural resources will also continue to feed their growing industries. And our people will remain poor, while the world makes major strides in human development.

 Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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