Technology as a Tool for Integrating Africa into the 21st Century Global Economy
The following are in-depth answers to millennium-related questions e-mailed by producers at the British Broadcasting Corporation radio.


BBC Network Africa: What can technology do for Africa in the new millennium?

EMEAGWALI: A few millennia ago, Africans were the first to enter the Agricultural Age. The first to build in stones. The first to pioneer in technology.

Today, Africa is behind every continent in technology and as a result is the poorest continent. Technological knowledge can be used to create wealth and alleviate poverty in Africa.

Kwame Nkrumah also said: "Socialism without science is void." Therefore, we cannot reduce poverty in Africa without scientists and engineers.

The lack of technological knowledge is the reason for the wide disparity between the rich and the poor nations. The 500 richest people on Earth has more money than the 3 billion poorest people on Earth. Because the rich nations are getting richer much faster than the poor nations, the gap between the rich and poor will continue to widen.

This gap can be closed African nations focusing on developing an economy that is knowledge and technology based, instead of one that is based on the export of natural resources.

The present life expectancy in Africa is 50 years. By the end of this 21st century, medical science will make it possible for an African to live up to 150 years. Today, it is impossible for a person to live beyond the age of 125 years.

A child born today could live long enough to see the middle of the twenty-second century. In a sense, African children of today will be time travellers that will live in and connect the twentieth (20th), twenty-first (21st) and twenty-second (22nd) centuries.

Unfortunately, we will find that long life will be a mixed blessing because many Africans will be working to support their grand parents, great grand parents and great-great grand parents.

Therefore, we need to have retirement taxes and will be used to fund social security payments for the elderly. And if life expectancy increases to one hundred years, we will be forced to raise the retirement age to 90 years.

In this century, we expect to make medical discoveries that will cure AIDS and save the lives of 22 millions of Africans that are threatened by HIV/ANDS.

We expect to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. We expect to eradicate Guinea worm by providing safe drinking water to all Africans.

It is the technology of the 20th century that increased food production, reduced infant mortality rate and increased the population of Africa. A century ago, less than 100 million people lived in Africa. Today, 800 million people live in Africa. Africa cannot ignore to implement family planning.

In this 21st century, Nigeria could become the third most populous country in the world. Only China and India will be larger than Nigeria and the population of Nigeria will be three times larger than that of Russia.

I am the oldest of nine children. Because my parents could not afford to raise my siblings, I brought all my brothers and sisters to live in the United States. If my siblings and I were to have nine children for nine generations while non-relatives of mine have two children, the descendants of Emeagwali in America could form the third largest nation on Earth, behind only China and India.

Five hundred years ago, there were 500 million people on Earth and five million people in Nigeria. It took 10,000 generations for Nigeria's population to reach five million. Yet from my great-grand-father's generation to mine, Nigeria's population has increased from five million to 120 million.

The human species emerged 160,000 years ago. If our ancestors had an average of nine children, the Earth will be so overcrowded that they will have been no room for forests and animals to co-exist with the human race. This means that we would have run out of food a long time ago.

I believe that the main reason the quality of life has not improved in Nigeria, despite our great natural resources, is that our population is increasing faster than our natural wealth. Put differently, if we want the quality of life we see in American television, we must have fewer children than even the Americans.

On the other hand, if we insist that our wives must have six or seven children, then we should make fathers to prepay for their child's education. We should write it into our constitution that the percentage of our national budget devoted to education should be proportional to the percentage of our population that is of school age. One in two Nigerians is in school. Therefore, one in two petrodollars should be invested in education.

Having a large labor force will not be an advantage in the new global economy of the 21st century. The wealth of the future will be created largely by knowledge and technology and not by natural resources and a large population. Therefore, it does not make sense to have a large family of seven children who will grow up uneducated and unemployed.

Since the African economy does not have enough jobs, it will be difficult for the next-generation to afford education, health services, housing and food. Reducing the number of children per family is a requirement for reducing poverty in Africa.

Family planning must be part of the school curriculum in Africa. The best way to alleviate poverty is for each family to have one child and invest heavily in that child's education.

The rich nations use knowledge and information to create wealth. Africa tries to create wealth by exporting raw materials to the more affluent nations. The lesson we learned from Nigeria is that a massive inflow of petrodollars will not bring an economic prosperity. In exchange, Nigeria spent its petrodollars on aircrafts, cars and swiss bank accounts.

What Africa needs to do is to acquire technological knowledge so that it can export technological products to Europe and the United States.

Africa should reduce its investments in agriculture and industrialization and make long-range plans to leapfrog into the Information Age in which knowledge is the most valuable commodity.

It happened in Ireland. Malaysia plans to do so. Similarly, Africa can leapfrog into the Information Age by having fewer children, investing in education and eliminating military spending.

In the Information Age, millions of good paying jobs will require computer literacy and it Africa should start preparing by focusing on education and technology.

The Internet now makes it possible for an African to be employed by an American company. Many companies will rather pay $15,000-a-year salary to an African professional than pay an American $60,000 a year.

Africa can attract these high-technology companies by investing heavily in technical education, introducing lots of computer courses and producing one million scientists and engineers a year. There are still opportunities in computer programming.

In terms of future employment, the implication of the Internet is that an African contract programmer will not need an immigration work permit to work in the United States.


BBC Network Africa

What kind of technology is appropriate for Africa's development needs?

EMEAGWALI: The kind of technology that creates the most wealth. However, I will like to caution that understanding how to use technology is more difficult and of far greater importance than acquiring. It is dangerous to acquire hunting gun technology without an understanding of the restrict hunting. In Nigeria, all the big game animals have been hunted to extinction. The Nigerian rainforest has been completely destroyed by unrestricted logging for timber. Nigeria cannot have eco-tourism in the future. The only thing left is petroleum and a few minerals. With reckless abandon, we issued unrestricted license to oil companies and "foreign investors" exploit, extract and export our natural resources so that it will be used to further develop the more developed nations. Officially, we claim that we are developing our natural resources. It is a misnomer to claim that we are developing our petroleum resources that were formed millions of years ago. An oil field becomes dry after about 20 years. We can extract and exploit our oil fields but we cannot develop it. The harvest of tomorrow is purchased with the seed corn of today. By mining and exporting our natural resources, Africa is eating the seed corn of tomorrow.

Education and understanding of how to use technology is more important than acquiring the technology itself. Medical technology will give us information about how to reduce infant mortality. But it is education that gives us the understanding that reducing infant mortality without practicing family planning will result in overpopulation and an increase in the level of poverty.

Going back to your original question: What kind of technology is appropriate for Africa's development needs? Africa has been encouraged to focus on low technologies such as the development of solar, hydro and wind energy. Solar panels and wind mills have been and will always be inefficient technology. These low technologies didn't work in the America and will not work in Africa.

As a former civil engineer, I know that hydroelectric dams and reservoirs has negative impacts on the environment and in some instances resulted in the flooding and destruction of historical relics, as in Aswan Dam in Egypt.

Also, low level agricultural technology has not contributed much to food production in Africa. We need to shift from sustainable agricultural technology into computer information age technology.

Since high technology creates more wealth than low technology, Africa should focus on high technology. Sixty percent of the wealth in the developed nations is created from technological knowledge. Since the wealth of the future will be created from technological knowledge, Africa must invest in technological development or risk being left behind.

Computing, communications, Internet are the physical infrastructure of the Information Age. If Africa fails to invest on the latest technology it will be find itself isolated from the global community.

In the global village, nations have to specialize. What we have today is a situation in which Africa provides the raw materials while Europe and America provides the technology, manufactured goods, and capital. By the end of this century, the natural resources of most African countries will be exhausted and Africa will have nothing to trade in the global economy. Africa has to plan for the rainy day when all its natural resources are gone.

Africa must leapfrog from low agricultural technology to high information age technology. Because of high birth rates, Africa has 350 million school children. Like new languages, children can understand computer language faster than their parents, it makes sense to invest in computer education.


BBC Network Africa:

One of our listeners has predicted that an African will be the first person to land on the planet Mars - do you think that might happen?

EMEAGWALI: Yes, an African can be among the first crew of astronauts to land on the planet Mars. I have applied to become an astronaut and NASA sent me a note last week, informing me that my application will be reviewed in January. Even if I don't get selected as an astronaut, I expect an African to be selected in the future and to travel to the planet Mars by the middle of the 21st century.

Space of exploration is now a co-operative project which several countries contribute money and astronauts. The international space station is jointly owned and operated by the United States, Japan, Russia and other nations.

It will cost a trillion dollars to send a person to the planet Mars and the United States cannot afford to make that voyage alone. Therefore it is conceivable that the first astronaut crew to land on the planet Mars will include an African, Asian and a female. In the 21st century, Africa could contribute money and astronauts that will travel to the planet Mars.

We don't go to a planet because we want to be the first race to get there. Americans won the lunar space race by landing the first man on the Moon. The astronauts returned with lunar rocks. When we discovered that the Moon is the most expensive and most useless piece of real estate in our solar system, we cancelled all trips to the Moon.

The exploration and development of the planet Mars is not as important as improving the quality of life on Earth. Landing on Mars is not as important as finding a cure for AIDS or saving the rain forests.

We should be looking towards the Earth in the 21st century and not towards the planets. The Earth is the best place for the human race to live in. Compared to the Moon and Mars, the Earth is a paradise.

Unfortunately, Mother Earth is ill. Her lungs, the tropical rain forests are disappearing. The African rain forest is a paradise and the birthplace of humanity

When the rain forests are gone, many species will be extinct. Since the human race is connected to other species, whatever happens to the trees and animals of the rain forests will happen to the human race. We are merely custodians of the rain forests. We did not inherit the rain forest from our ancestors. We borrowed it from our children.


BBC Radio Producer: Can you see yourself, and other Africans who've been successful overseas, returning to live in Africa in the new Millennium?

EMEAGWALI: The brain drain is a historic as well as a recent phenomenon. Over four centuries, the slave ships brought the ancestors of 200 million Africans now living in the United States, Brazil, Jamaica and in the diaspora. These 200 million diasporan Africans have the highest standard of living and possess the education and skills that can be used to develop Africa but it will be impractical for them to return to Africa.

Today, one in three African university graduate now live and work outside Africa. There are more Sierra Leonean medical doctors in the city of Chicago than in the entire nation of Sierra Leone. Africa's most important export to Europe and the United States is trained professionals, not petroleum, gold and diamond.

It seems like there are more African intellectuals living abroad than within Africa. African officials come to the United States to seek technical assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Africans are the most educated ethnic group in the United States. Therefore, our leaders can seek technical assistance from Africans living in the United States. Sixty-four percent of Nigerians in this country has one or more university degrees. There are one million Africans living in the United States.

We came to America to study. We planned to return home. But things got worse at home and we decided to remain in America.

It wasn't always like this. When Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah arrived in the United States in 1920s and 30s. Back then there were about 20 sub-Saharan Africans in the entire United States. A hundred percent of those that came to the United States returned home. In fact, up till about 1980, most African students returned home.

The widely held myth is that Africa is only exporting raw materials to the west. Africa is also exporting talented human resources to Europe and America. One million Africans are working outside Africa.

At the same time, Africa spends four billion dollars a year on the salary of 100,000 foreign experts. Yet, African nations are unwilling to spend a similar amount of money to recruit one million African professionals working outside Africa.

The problem is getting worse. One in three African university graduate live and work outside Africa. In effect, we are operating one third of African universities to satisfy the manpower needs of western nations.

One third of the African education budget is a supplement to the American education budget. In effect, Africa is giving developmental assistance to the United States.

There are more Sierra Leonean medical doctors in Chicago than in Sierra Leone. At the rate medical doctors are leaving Nigeria, we could eventually have more Nigerian doctors working outside Nigeria than within it.

We also need engineers to help provide constant electricity, clean water and safe roads.

We also need scientists. We use science and technology to discover and recover petroleum. We use medical science to reduce infant mortality rate.

We world has changed a lot in the last fifty years. In today's world knowledge creates wealth. Therefore, we need people with brains, not muscles. Unfortunately, it is the best and brightest that can obtain visas to the United States. What is left behind is the weak and less imaginative. It means that Africa will be getting poorer while the United States gets more affluent.

Put simply, Africa is exporting both natural and human resources. In the end, there will be no resources left within Africa. It means a slow death for Africa.

How can we reverse brain-drain?

We build a data bank of Africans abroad. Then we offer them meaningful employment and compensation that will entice them to return home.

Medical doctors cannot live on a salary of fifty (50) dollars a month. To make ends meet, some medical doctors raise poultry or manage beer parlor.

We need to change our national priorities.

We should stop spending one million dollars a day in fighting in Sierra Leone. One million dollars is greater than the daily salary of one million school teachers. While we are keeping peace in Sierra Leone, some teachers have not been paid their salaries for six months.

We must change our priorities be reducing our defense budget and increasing our education budget.

We must increase our investment in science, technology and education.

As we approach the end of this century, it is appropriate that we reflect on our legacy for our children. In the next century, it will be technological knowledge that will create wealth. Therefore, our legacy to our children will be the investments that we made on their education.


Philip Emeagwali's Web site

Click on this icon to

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Click on for more information.
Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor