"Can Science and Technology Drive Development and Democracy?"
In the current world order, it is easy to forget the role that Africa once played in the development of science and technology. The South African Ambassador to Japan, Her Excellency Mohau Pheko's recent lecture at Tohoku University, served as a timely reminder that in planning for the future, it is always useful to know about the past.
According to Ambassador Pheko, many of the scientific discoveries attributed to the Greeks and Romans can actually be traced back to Ancient Egypt and the African continent, where learned men like Imhote studied architecture, astronomy and medicine.
She cited the region's most famous structures as examples of sophisticated knowledge nearly five thousand years ago. "The Ancient Egyptians scripted textbooks. They developed mathematics, fractions, division, multiplication and geometric formulae. They were also able to calculate distances and angles. I mean, you can't build a pyramid if you don't understand angles!"
Yet despite the impressive achievements of its past, Africa is now one of the poorest continents in the world. "The politics of globalization, internationalization and regionalization of science and technology have defined and shaped science and technology in ways that effectively exclude the African voice, its knowledge systems and communities and to a larger extent, the African development agenda," said Ms. Pheko, adding that it is time for Africa to turn the story around, so that it can play a more productive, more meaningful role in the future global landscape.
And the way forward, she said, is by regaining some of its edge in science and technology. Ms. Pheko attributed Japan's standing in the world to its heavy investment in research and education, and said that the African continent must do the same. She added that priority must be given to primary-level education where the foundations of strong human resources are built.
Investment in health is also crucial, she said. Widespread disease is a problem that Japan is lucky not to have. But in some countries, malaria, TB and HIV have crippled progress and democracy. "If there's not sufficient scientists, not sufficient research, not sufficient resources to manage these issues, these become the issues that really destroy democracy," she said. "It is very, very difficult to run strong stable democracies with countries with a lot of sick people. You can't develop your human resources for the future."
And human resources are key to the ambassador's vision of a revitalized Africa.
"Up until 2010, we had 1.6 trillion US dollar in collective GDP. We will have 2.6 trillion by 2020, that's in 5 years. So we are doubling our wealth, we are increasing our consumer spending, the number of Africans of working age by 2040, will be a force of 1.1 billion. Not a greying society, but a force of young, young, young people who are ready to go into the workforce."
"We are a continent with young people and young opportunities. And that gives us a lot of hope."
Ms. Pheko has been the South African Ambassador to Japan since 2012. She is actively engaged in projects promoting African social and economic development, as well as transitional strategies. Her lecture in Sendai was held at Tohoku University's TOKYO ELECTRON House of Creativity.
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