Every success story is replicable. Every borrowed idea with the intent to honestly use produces the same result. Every beautiful edifice seen somewhere can be erected anywhere if there is the will and commitment to start and finish it. There is no impossibility where the heart to build is existent. Even if you can’t think, if you can see, you can become. There is hope for Africa, yes, there is. We go in phase, we passed through different phases. From huts, we moved to bricks, even if we were configured to remain in muds. I am not playing the blame game, but the many roads we walked were enough to get us stuck. Somehow, we wriggled out, and positioned ourselves where we are today. Today isn’t bleak, but it isn’t bright either. There are errors, there is self-centeredness, but in this very confusion, there are those with the mind to drive us from negative impudence to prudence. We will reach that place; a place where those that have fought and won against poverty meet. We will shake hands with the greats; the greats that took what we have and gave us peanuts. We will say to them, just like you, we also made it. Then, no one will give us aids; we will go shoulder to shoulder with the powers that be – we will be as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro – our dignity will be restored. What we lost in ancient Egypt, we will get back. All these will happen if we dare industrialize!
According to Investopedia, industrialization is the process by which an economy is transformed from primarily agricultural to one based on the manufacturing of goods, where individual manual labor is replaced by mechanized mass production, and craftsmen replaced by assembly lines. Many socio-economic environments in Africa still operate agrarian societies, and with a population of over a billion people, agrarian societies can’t sustain the system. Most goods used in Africa are imported because we either don’t make enough to keep us going or don’t make at all. Africa has the raw materials, but processing them to finished and usable products is the main challenge. Raw materials, on their own, don’t provide employments – what provides employments is when governments and stakeholders make quality decisions on how to convert the natural resources into money making businesses, and the sincerity and honesty to use the proceeds for developmental purposes. More, various or different industries can be developed in a nation, beginning with one – as you initiate and expand one, the experience gained, money made, and skills acquired can help in diversifying into other sectors. And bit by bit, more and more areas will be covered, and more jobs will be created. These all begin with the will and readiness, vision, sourcing for interested partners, effective strategies, the realization that there will be bumpy roads, and the abruptness in putting the plans to work. If industrialization is safeguarded from political abuse, or protected from a click of hackers, who’s inordinate ambition is to infect it in order to make it either miserable or take undue advantage of it, in the near future; the benefits of the good decisions made will become evident. All developed worlds have gone through these stages – there are huge lessons we can learn from them.
According to the late historian, Arnold Toynbee, industrial revolution began in Britain in the years after 1750. A little bit before, and much more beyond this year, there were lots of scientific discoveries and technological inventions. In these years, iron production sporadically increased by about 30-fold and coal production went up to about 20-fold. It was during the industrial revolution that Thomas Telford built roads and canals, Turnip Townshend came up with the Norfolk four-course rotation, and George Stephenson supervised the building of the railways. Due to industrial revolution, there was economic development, improvement in the standard of living, and according to the BBC, Britain became a great trading nation with a worldwide empire covering about a fifth of the globe – there was 260 percent increase in population, a change from agriculture to industry, a change from water and wind power to steam engine, and a change from domestic industry to factory work. According to history.com, “a number of factors contributed to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. For one, it had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for industrialization. Additionally, Britain was a politically stable society, as well as the world’s leading colonial power, which meant its colonies could serve as a source for raw materials, as well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.” This means that availability of raw materials, political stability, and people are the driving forces of industrialization. The British textile industry was revolutionized by people – inventors like James Hargreaves, Samuel Compton, and later in 1780, Edmund Cartwright, developed stage by stage, the spinning machines. The iron and steel industry was revolutionized by people – once again, history.com lets us know that “Developments in the iron industry also played a central role in the Industrial Revolution. In the early 18th century, Englishman Abraham Darby (1678-1717) discovered a cheaper, easier method to produce cast iron, using a coke-fuelled (as opposed to charcoal-fired) furnace. In the 1850s, British engineer Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) developed the first inexpensive process for mass-producing steel. Both iron and steel became essential materials, used to make everything from appliances, tools and machines, to ships, buildings and infrastructure.”
To reiterate, raw materials, political stability, and people make industrialization possible. I can’t overemphasize that Africa has raw materials. I can’t overemphasize that Africa has human capital in surplus abundance. I will be lying to myself and to no one else if I say Africa has political stability. The bane of industrialization and the lethargy of Africa’s development rest on the foot of leadership. Africa has the propensity to be world’s number one if her leadership problems are solved. If we deny self, and say to nepotism, you’re not my friend – if we abandon ethnocentrism on a never-to-be-used highway in the remote areas of eternal forgetfulness, and glue to brotherliness that exceeds boundaries. If we understand that making certain generational decisions are consequential, and therefore, look beyond today, and see the impacts on tomorrow. We will make progresses that will put us where the eagles fly – we will grow, we will develop, we will industrialize. Standard of living doesn’t improve where there are no industries to hire people. Development is a chain reaction – if you improve the transport industry for instance, people will get jobs, and the same people will build or buy houses, thereby booming the property market. A death or inexistence of one sector means the death or inexistence of another sector.
To a nation and a people with the magnetic force to attract, ideas that work in other nations are copied, replicated and or adapted. The industrial revolution did not begin and end in Britain; it spread all over Europe and America. Success principles are the same, and work the same way for everyone; what differs is culture. Africa can copy and replicate how the big worlds do it. A couple of years ago, I wanted to buy a number of computers for business, and so, I visited some Chinese market websites. The prices I saw were ridiculously low – I had to send them emails to confirm. After the confirmation, I went further to find out if the goods were original, and the response I got made me laugh. They said it is original copy!
The Chinese industrial revolution began with original copy, and secondly, but most importantly, the political will to reform the industrial sectors. Wikipedia has it that “on December 22, 1978, the party leaders decided to undertake a program of gradual but fundamental reform of the economic system. They concluded that the Maoist version of the centrally planned economy had failed to produce efficient economic growth and had caused China to fall far behind not only the industrialized nations of the West but also the new industrial powers of Asia: Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In the late 1970s, while Japan and Hong Kong rivalled European countries in modern technology, China’s citizens had to make do with barely sufficient food supplies, rationed clothing, inadequate housing, and a service sector that was inadequate and inefficient. All of these shortcomings embarrassed China internationally.” Embarrassment is a factor that helps you catch up when your mates leave you behind. The Chinese political powers sat down to deliberate, consider, assess where they were, assess where the world was, and where their neighbours, specifically were. In their honest assessments, they came up with an enduring solution, stuck with the solution, and we know where they are today. I have repeatedly mentioned in this piece that the number one solution to industrialization is political will – when leadership starts feeling the shame of accepting aids from the West like beggars, and sees the need to urgently develop their nations, industrialization will become possible. When the need to industrialize becomes systemic, it will one day become a nature and atmospheric, that even the newborns will feel it as they make their entrant into their new world. In the West, saying you will industrialize the nation isn’t found in political manifestos, because it’s already in the system – it is like telling the people that you will supply them air when you win the election.
Yi Wen, an Economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis summed up how China succeeded in its industrial revolution. According to him, “China mimicked the historical sequence of the British Industrial Revolution by following these key approaches: maintain political stability at all costs – focus on the grassroots, bottom-up reforms (starting in agriculture instead of in the financial sector) – promote rural industries despite their primitive technologies – use manufactured goods (instead of only natural resources) to exchange for machinery – provide enormous government support for infrastructure buildup – follow a dual-track system of government/private ownership instead of wholesale privatization – and move up the industrial ladder, from light to heavy industries, from labor-to-capital-intensive production, from manufacturing to financial capitalism, and from a high-saving state to a consumeristic welfare state.” China copied and succeeded; Africa can also copy and succeed. If you can’t innovate, don’t bother to. If you can’t strategize, don’t bother to. But one thing you must learn how to do is copy. Let the big boys spend the money on research, but hang around to see how they did it, then go ahead to tweak it. Samsung tweaked Apple’s iPhone – it resulted in a court case, but till now, Samsung has one of the largest market shares in the mobile phone industry.
It is unbelievable to imagine that China’s industrial revolution began about 39 years ago. From 1978 to 1988, China had proto-industrialization – there was a focus on industrializing the rural areas and growing rural enterprises, which in turn grew the national economy. Between 1988 and 1998, China had her first industrial revolution. At this stage, there was a focus on the production of light consumer goods using imported machineries. From 1998 till date, China is in her second industrial revolution. The second industrial revolution saw an explosion of industrialization in all sectors of the economy. In this stage, China has become the manufacturer for the world – there’s hardly any nation on earth that China does not produce one thing or the other for – from simple consumer goods to high tech equipment.
The Economist writes, “The collapse of Nigeria’s textile industry, which has gone from employing more than 350,000 people to fewer than a tenth as many, reflects a wider problem of deindustrialisation across Africa that has occurred during a decade of rapid growth driven by high commodity prices.” For about three decades up to 2008, Africa’s manufacturing sector only provided a little over 6% of total jobs, while in comparison with Asia, within the same period, there was a growth from 11% to 16%. What is wrong with Africa? The founding fathers had visions but those that succeeded them probably have missions – the mission to fill their pockets with stolen public wealth and embarrass the continent in the committee of nations, the mission to be the only standing tree in the forest while others are cut down, or the mission to perpetrate themselves in power, thereby messing up the political system. We can make all the excuses, and cast all the blames on slavery and colonialism – yes, they played a role, but we are the deciders of our destinies, we are the makers of our future – if we insist on growth, nothing can stop us, but are we sincerely ready to? Our leaders traverse the globe; they see all the huge developments, but it hardly comes to their minds that these industrializations can be replicated. The conscience to build a viable continent is obliterated. The heart to develop this great environment is lost in thoughtlessness. They get to power promising paradise but drop the people in the abyss until they need them again for another election, or maybe, selection. Paradise is a possibility only if the political class come with beautiful minds to deliver the beautiful continent from the ugly claws of poverty.
From EH.net, I gathered that “Japan was well positioned to take up the Western challenge. It harnessed its infrastructure, its high level of literacy, and its proto-industrial distribution networks to the task of emulating Western organizational forms and Western techniques in energy production, first and foremost enlisting inorganic energy sources like coal and the other fossil fuels to generate steam power.” Again, the word ‘replication’ comes in another language “emulating.” There are so many industrial revolutions but all following what Britain did. Why can’t we just do the same? The only lesson to learn is to do the same – do what successful nations are doing and you will get the same result. It begins with a change of mindset. It begins with the concern to make it happen. It begins with being embarrassed by where we are. It begins with decisions backed by driven actions. Let’s get going Africa – industrialization and development are possible!
Originally published on African Leadership Magazine