Harnessing African science and technology: Part Two…for socio-economic development

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IN Zimbabwe’s new economic dispensation, the thrust is to grow the economy by generating goods and services for both local and export markets while creating jobs for the growing population.
The ‘Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics’ (STEM) initiative seeks to exploit fully the benefits of science by integrating and making it central to our education curriculum.
In turn, the graduates of our school system will use the science learnt to put our production and management systems on a firm scientific foundation for sustainability.
For Zimbabweans to fully embrace ‘STEM’, the citizens must fully embrace science and technology in their day-to-day activities.
Government, all the way from Cabinet to ministries, departments, state enterprises as well as private sector industries all require reliable scientific data for planning purposes. Science and technology are critical in the production, processing, marketing and utilisation of goods and services.
Zimbabwe’s cry for foreign exchange will be answered through the deployment of science and technology in the generation of exportable surpluses.
Scientific knowledge and data are produced using methods that eliminate bias or favour.
Decisions can be based on such data without fear of failure due to wrong assumptions. That is the essence of evidence-based decision making.
Scientific data is required to produce evidence-based development plans for both state and private enterprises.
There is need to move away from guesstimates to ensure accurate, precise quantifications of the various problems to be tackled and solutions proffered.
Health, food security, infrastructure, mineral deposits – all these need to be quantified accurately to facilitate proper planning by relevant development authorities.
Reliable data is required for planners to work out realistic quantities of materials and budget estimates.
There is no place for ‘fembera fembera’ (guesswork). Equally, there is no place for inflation of budgets as a strategy to ‘milk’ public coffers for corrupt personal gain.
Our President, Cde E.D. Mnangagwa, has clearly pronounced zero tolerance to corruption. Corruption prevents proper scientific planning for national development projects and sustainable exploitation of our natural resources.
A science-based work ethic and culture will ensure success of the President’s vision to grow the economy, increase exports to earn foreign exchange and increase jobs.
The clear message to Zimbabwe is: Embrace science or perish!
We may not perish physically or immediately, but we will perish economically as we fail to generate foreign currency from exports.
We perish physically as disease and malnutrition take their toll on a morbid and poorly nourished population where science and technology are poorly applied.
Poor quality goods and services, lacking scientific rigour in their design and production, will be rejected by external and even internal markets.
We will perish as unemployment rises and, in turn, social unrest creeps in as shortages begin to characterise our economy. We have already been there: How then do we rescue our situation?
We must put all our systems on a firm scientific foundation. We develop our own and also transfer from those willing to work with us.
Good quality science and technology will make Zimbabwe competitive in its various economic and social development endeavours. And now to the real challenge! Zimbabweans will raise issues with the subject ‘science’.
What is science?
Most of us have never learnt science at school. Most schools never offered science as a subject! Science requires English language we are told! And most of us did not even pass English at ‘O’-Level.
It is made to look like an impossible task.
And yet ‘science’ is the bridge that all advanced and emerging economies have used to cross into the economic proverbial Canaan!
We also want to join them!
Zimbabwe must put its money where its mouth is — invest in science and technology. Investors and foreign direct investments are short-to-medium term strategies for boosting our economy.
We must eventually stand tall with the others in the global village – anchored on our science and technology.
There are no short-cuts.
And so we have the task to explain to the citizens what ‘science’ is all about. Below is a brief explanation of what science involves:
To the general public, ‘science’ is often understood in the academic sense.
The mere mention of the word ‘science’ invokes images of a school and a laboratory.
The laboratory is the special room where science lessons are conducted.
For those who have attended secondary school, science will include traditional subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
For many Zimbabweans, science is ‘exotic’, something special, something associated with the English language ‘chirungu/isilungu’ or European ‘wisdom’.
To most Africans, ‘science’ is a phenomenon associated with our colonial experience and the education system that it brought.
Youths are often fascinated by science and are heard to make comments like: ‘What you are saying is unscientific’.
This is often said in relation to phenomena that reside in the African traditional domain. The implication is that African experiences and phenomena are not part of the ‘scientific’ domain of our existence.
And yet that is far from the truth. Africans literally breathe and sweat science, like all other races: Where is the difference?
Perceptions of science as a Western (European) area of knowledge represent the myth that has largely prevented Africans in general, and Zimbabweans in particular, from exploiting science for our own development. For most ordinary Zimbabweans, science is not part of our daily experiences. Those who have little formal Western education are considered to be completely outside the realm of science.
Those who cannot speak English are thought to be totally illiterate science-wise.
And so we ask again: What is science?
In a previous article in The Patriot, I sought to demystify ‘science’.
I explained that science simply means ‘knowledge about our surroundings’. But a more meaningful explanation perhaps is to say ‘science is knowledge and understanding about the natural world around us’. Scientists will add that ‘science is knowledge collected without bias or favour’.
Africans, Europeans, Indians, Chinese and all other peoples dotted around the world are surrounded by natural objects and phenomena.
Over thousands, if not millions, of years, inhabitants of these different environments have discovered and learned a lot of information about their surroundings. They have discovered various properties of the materials which they have exploited for their own benefit.
Where the information gathered has been used to create various devices for doing work, growing crops, processing/preserving food or building shelter, that is called technology.
So there we are: Knowledge about nature is the science. Figuring how to produce goods and services, to make work easier, produce crops, manufacture goods; that is technology. Who can say the Africans have not been there?
Clearly it is wrong to say that ‘science’ was brought to Africa by European colonisers.
It is erroneous to think that science is a European phenomenon.
Africans throughout their existence, since Creation, have discovered much knowledge which we should appropriately call African science.
There are numerous technologies that Africans have developed. They are not fully exploited because our erstwhile colonisers have forced us not to
An example that should appeal to Africans is the Great Pyramids of Egypt built by the black Pharaohs, forefathers of the African people.
The Great Zimbabwe monuments in Masvingo and hundreds of others scattered across Zimbabwe represent highly sophisticated architecture and construction technology.
We, Zimbabweans, have our own sciences and technologies that have been down-played and marginalised as part of our European colonisers’ strategy to dispossess and dominate us.
Africans should not feel intimidated by science. Instead we should stand up to research, discover, learn, adopt and adapt different technologies.
We do not need to re-invent the wheel. However, we need to develop our industries and technological capacity to generate goods and services that we can market to earn foreign exchange.
Yes foreigners with appropriate technologies can come and set up businesses to generate employment, goods for local consumption and exports that can earn us foreign exchange to help grow our economy. But we should learn to use science to make our own wheels, not keep importing!
The STEM initiative will empower us to develop local capacity for sustainable economic development.
Technology transfer is good; developing our own is better. Whichever way we go, we must embrace science and technology; that will keep us flying economically.

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