Industrial Revolution: The African Civilization Question by Joel Okwemba
While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. The Civilized man is only about 6,000 years old- creating various civilizations to fit their way of life and surroundings. Industrialization, however, started in the earnest only in the 1800s, led by the First Industrial Revolution in Europe then the Second Industrial Revolution in the Americas and now with us the Third Industrial Revolution originating from various influences in Asia, Europe and Americas.
The First Industrial Revolution could be said to have rooted the spirit of capitalism, with the growth of economies through the innovation of steam engines and printing that transformed transport, communication and energy systems. The Second Industrial Revolution could be said to have been characterized by the innovation of electricity and driven by political capitalism, where according to Gabriel Kolko refers to “where the businessmen took firmer control of the political system because the private economy was not sufficient enough to forestall protest from below”.
A perfect description of this system was made in 1876 by the Workingmen’s Party of Illinois in its declaration of Independence: “The present system has enabled capitalists to make laws in their own interests to the injury and oppression of the workers. It has therefore: prevented mankind from fulfilling their natural destinies on earth, crushed out ambition; prevented marriages or caused false and unnatural ones; has shortened human life, destroyed morals and fostered crime; corrupted judges, ministers and statesmen; shattered confidence, love and honor among men and made life a selfish, merciless struggle for existence instead of a noble and generous struggle for perfection in which equal advantages should be given to all and human lives relieved from an unnatural and degrading competition for bread.”
A Third Industrial Revolution driven by Social Capitalism
The Third Industrial Revolution (currently taking shape) can be said to be driven by social capitalism “a shared economy” where the realization that the change of societies augments national and international economies and where Public-Private-Non-Profit Partnerships are the relevant conversations necessary for any political, social, economic and cultural growth.
The changes in transport, communication and energy as well visible in our times with the innovation around driver-less and electric cars, social media, renewable energies gaining momentum across the planet. The Fourth Industrial Revolution as projected will focus around connecting the human being’s physical and biological features with digital technology, creating what could be referred to as moral capitalism where the needs for growth will be matched by human moral consciousness- a characteristic lacking in our current societies that are clouded by greed, bigotry, corruption, inequality, irresponsibility towards our environment and systems which clothe rascals in robes and honesty in rags.
Is Africa really exploring its Ability to Leapfrog?
While these conversations and advancements are taking root in Europe, Americas and Asia, I ask where the place of Africa in shaping future global interactions and industry is? The current realities allow for a broad-based contribution as the systems are yet to be far and deeply entrenched signifying that Africa is now placed in a special position where it has the ability to leapfrog (for instance in the telecommunications industry, from postal addresses to mobile phones) and join in the creation of the Fourth and even lead the Fifth Industrial Revolution. Is there potential and capacity in equal measure to realize this? Yes. Whether Africa has in the past shaped world civilization is a subject of historians and relative to each discipline whether in art, science, philosophy, religious or politics. Whether Africa has produced intelligent persons who have made substantive contribution to the world in among various fields, is a subject not to be questioned- and whoever questions this, lives in regrettable ignorance. However, it is important to note some of the errors made by African Leaderships that have deliberately crucified the continents’ and African People’s Honor at home and largely abroad.
Intellectuals take Refuge in Foreign Countries
At the top of the list is the lack of protection of the intellectuals by the State and Societies. Top brains have not found fertile conditions to lead growth, have not been embraced into the top cadres to influence development philosophies, invaluable recommendations by intellectuals in form or research and books are gathering dust in libraries with no keen interest by the State or society in their implementation. Some of the intellectuals take refuge in foreign countries and contributions left to benefit the countries in which they are working, only to be brought home as corpses, for instance, Prof. Celestas Juma and Prof. Ali Mazrui.
For the intellectuals that work with the Leadership, their roles are limited to advisory responsibilities on decisions already made by the practitioners and not influencing the direction of policy. Following the independence of African Countries in the 1950s and 60s, the liberation leaders were some of the best minds Africa had, however, their passing away whether natural or human-influenced led to leadership disasters in some countries. The next generation of leaders were to be either yes-men to the colonizers and paid little attention to the pride and way of life of the societies or were to be military dictators only interested in power play with little or no attention to the creation of better and innovative societies.
Wounds of Colonialism
The 21st century seems to be a time where the fresh wounds of colonialism have dried up. Many other countries were colonized and have managed to make proud of their civilizations and innovated through difficulties under no easier circumstances, examples range from Asia to Europe and Latin America. Let history be kind and remember this generation of Africans as those who: mastered and shaped the future more than understand the past and present, developed socio-political structures that supported the practitioners and the intellectuals to create strategies and methods that will lead future industrial revolutions, pronounced the perception of the African among other civilizations by laying the foundations upon which others will appreciate, copy and find useful.
For this to be realized the tribal politics have to end, the state to state disputes must be better resolved, the hegemony state muscles have to be used to uplift other small states, our societies have to be better organized while embracing the 21st century values, our international relations and foreign policies have to be future-oriented, not just maintaining status quo and of shared values, not just interests.
About the Authour: Joel Okwemba
Joel Okwemba is the Managing Director of The Centre for International and Security Affairs – A Think Tank and Research Organization based in Nairobi (Read more of Joel Okwemba’s Articles on the Daily Nation)