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African science and technology needs social democracy not neo-liberalism

Summary & Comment: Mere investment in science and technology in any country is not sufficient to create a stable and sustainable society. Nobhala Phesheya says attempts to boost science in Africa must take place within wider efforts to transform communities to create just, sustainable social democratic societies.

Author: Nobhala Phesheya, London Date Written: 25 April 2005
Primary Category: Africa General Document Origin: SciDev.Net
Secondary Category: -none- Source URL: http://www.scidev.net
Key Words: Science and technology, social democracy, neo-liberalism

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African science and technology needs social democracy not neo-liberalism

The idea that led to the establishment of the Commission for Africa may help us establish new relationships between Europeans and Africans. It deserves all the support it needs to succeed, but not uncritically. To start with, the report's description of existing 'centres of excellence' in science and technology in Africa is a little inaccurate.

For example, among the 'centres of excellence', the report mentions the Community and Individual Development Association City Campus, a small private non-profit centre in central Johannesburg, South Africa. It was founded in 1999 and its curriculum is undergraduate business education and training. The centre might offer IT courses but that is in the extent of its relation to science, technology and innovation.

No mention is made of great South African institutions such as the universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, Witwatersrand, North West, and Free State, and many other good government research councils and laboratories in the country. Why? And how do the commissioners explain this omission? The answer could be that there is a commission agenda to exclusively support the bodies it mentioned in its report. That is fine but it is wrong to give them a status they do not deserve at the expense of other, better African institutions.

If this is an error, it should be corrected to avoid public loss of confidence in the report's accuracy and intent. The commission should engage with independent and critical voices in South Africa to help it contribute to that country's efforts to overcome white domination in science, technology and innovation. Failure to do this risks another Zimbabwe-style situation, with severe consequences for the commission's vision.

Despite South Africa's advanced science and technology system, the country has untold levels of poverty and inequality. This is because the white minority clings on to apartheid wealth and wants to remain unaffected by the poverty created as a result of their first world life-style. They and largely-European expatriates dominate science, technology, innovation and the professions. Black advancement in all spheres of knowledge remains held back.

This shows that merely investing in science and technology in any country is not sufficient to create a stable and sustainable society. If South Africa's white-dominated capitalist economy is an example, there is a risk that Africa will internalise an economic system that perpetuates neo-colonial elites with science and technology serving as instruments of oppression and exploitation of the impoverished blacks.

Development of science, technology and innovation should be viewed as part of wider efforts to transform communities to create just, sustainable social democratic societies in Africa. Industrial South Africa is at present engaged in this intense struggle, with the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress emerging as the broad programme on which to transform economic and social relations.

The Commission for Africa should throw its weight behind this programme to avoid a crisis similar to the one in Zimbabwe. What would a social democratic science, technology and innovation system in the African Union look like? What should be done for it to emerge? How can progressive European professionals, academics, industry, and business people be mobilised to support such a policy? These are the questions we should be thinking about, and it is on the same basis that we ought to engage with the Commission for Africa and its programme.

If we fail to do that, we risk giving undeserved rewards to corrupt elites in African Union countries who, as neo-colonial agents, are the source of all present difficulties. The report takes a very technocratic view of the problems of Africa. The report's authors probably know that African professionals are numerous and spread all over the Western world and that, unless favourable conditions of work and reward prevail in Africa, more are set to leave for 'greener pastures' in the West. I am for a principled review of the situation in Africa rather than taking a clever guess at things.

Let us establish the size of the African diaspora in the United Kingdom. Let us mobilise this group to engage with the African Union and the UK Commission for Africa for social democracy in all African Union countries. That is the only way to provide for public education, public health, public investment, and innovative public, private and cooperative enterprise in every African country. I say 'yes' to science, technology and innovation for a just social democratic sustainable African Union community. I say 'no' to a neo-liberal programme of African development. 

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