Technology for Africa

Technology for Africa

(Edward S. Marek)

The following paper was prepared by Edward S. Marek, president, The Marek Enterprise, Inc. (MAREK), and editor of the monthly newsletter-magazine "africa." Comments and ideas about implementing the program described below should be sent by e-mail to "" or please call Mr. Marek at the toll free number (800) 575-2735.

Subject: American-Africa Technology Consortium

Several regions in the USA are world-class leaders in advanced technologies and their applications, hubs for the international network of technology business.

Africa is a continent comprised of diverse countries, each of which is developing at a different rate, many of which are dynamic emerging economies, some of which are pivotal states to American national strategic interests, one of which (South Africa) has been identified by the U.S. Department of Commerce as one of ten "Big Emerging Markets" that will get the attention of American trade and development.

MAREK's objective is to link advanced American technologies to the enormous economic development that is now in train among the emerging markets of Africa. It is true that these African markets lag behind those in East Asia, Latin America, eastern Europe, and the states of the former Soviet Union in their development. But, they offer incredible opportunity for the long-term.
American exports to sub-Saharan Africa amounted to $4.5 billion in 1995, higher than all American exports to eastern Europe or to the republics of the former Soviet Union.

The official position of the U.S. Government is that the U.S. will no longer concede the African marketplace to the European colonial powers. Secretary of Commerce Brown has made Africa one of his personal projects. For example, he is enroute to Africa now to advocate and promote $9 billion worth of business transactions.

At the moment, Africa commands little attention among American technologists, leaving the field open to the to those who might wish to take a commanding leadership role quickly and, perhaps, largely unchallenged.

There are two kinds of companies relevant to this discussion:

1. One set includes those companies with a long tradition of commercial activity in Africa. These companies are entrenched, they have strong ties to the governments involved, and in many instances they carry considerable political baggage resulting from American foreign policy treatment of Africa during the Cold War. These companies include the oil and mining companies, manufacturers of oil and mining equipment, and manufacturers of agricultural related equipment.

2. Another set includes those high technology companies with little or no previous experience in Africa. These companies carry little or no political baggage from the Cold War and they offer Africans the potential to leapfrog entire stages of economic development and solve globally worrisome strategic problems associated with the environment, population, food production, energy, poverty, and health care. These are the companies of that could be represented in Africa by a consortium of American high technology companies.

Potential strategic objectives for An American-Africa Technology Consortium

1. Pull a select set of promising African nations into the global economy through new technology. This is an objective of the European Commission and this market should not be left to the Europeans uncontested. 2. Shape the regulatory framework of a select set of promising African nations to set the environment in which American technologies can compete; set technical standards, and substantially broaden African access to value-added information services. The G7 states have discussed this idea and agree that dynamic competition among private sector companies will promote the kind of innovations needed in Africa. 3. Influence select African leaders and political systems to increase the percentage of GDP devoted to developing science and technology for the purposes of modernizing their rudimentary industrial base and improving their capacity to deal with difficult environmental, health, and energy issues and needs. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), headquartered in the pivotal state of Egypt, recognizes African science and technology is most inadequate for modern development. The OAU will be receptive to this objective.
Central to the OAU's thinking is that they must substantially increase the exploration, development and use of their abundant energy and mineral resources as a basis for their development. 4. Work with the U.S. government to obtain financing and economic incentives for the application of American technologies to the crucial challenges of the African continent. Work with the American government and a select group of African governments to establish programs that promote and reward new technologies used to advance economic development in Africa. The Corporate Council on Africa, whose membership consists of some of America's top corporations such as Mobil, Motorola, Kaiser Aluminum, Eli Lilly and Caterpillar has recommended to the U.S. government that financing be found for projects that will encourage the application of American technology and services to critical African issues. 5. Take advantage of the work already done by a core of telecommunications companies and business leaders and examine the options open to American technology companies to enter the African telecommunications market, including actions that will reduce the costs of American technologies to Africans, such as the building of assembly plants in Africa. Bell Atlantic's CEO Freeman is on the record saying that communications technologies for Africa are essential for it to develop; Emmit McHenry, President of Netcom Solutions says telecommunications in Africa will act as a magnet to bring in all kinds of new businesses to Africa; AT&T Submarine is working to lay the Africa One cable around Africa to connect one country to the other; American experts see the African telecommunications market as a $1.5 billion per year market that is likely to grow to $10-12 billion in sales over the next ten years; Millard Arnold of the U.S. Commerce Department says American firms must meet the Europeans head-on and take a leadership role. The American-Africa Technology Consortium can decide to lead the charge.

Sample sets of opportunities

There are many very exciting opportunities in Africa and many unmet challenges. The technology consortium could tackle both the opportunities and the challenges, and produce "never-before-done" innovations in technology development, application, and financing that would carry global implications.
For example:

1. Response to privatization: African nations are privatizing their energy, telecommunications and mining companies. These are mind-boggling markets that demand new solutions. Biomass, thermal, solar (photovoltaic), and wind generation and new energy storage technology solutions are being applied to energy in lieu of expensive and politically entangled hydroelectric and nuclear power systems. Housing and industrial developments are being designed that have self-sufficient sources of energy to avoid the expense of expanding the electrical grid. Equipment in multiple countries is being monitored from command centers in yet another country. All together, the privatizations in Africa have the potential to cause an explosion in whole new kinds of businesses and industries. Environmental challenges: Africans face serious environmental issues associated with population growth, poverty, and economic development. Many of these issues are strategic, with global implications. Environmental irresponsibility is causing the rise of new viruses and infectious diseases as humans disrupt viruses that have peacefully lived in the jungles of Africa. African scientists have ideas about and experience with these kinds of problems and have a very important contribution to make to finding global solutions. But African science is being hindered by poor communications.
Much of the African scientific community is being impeded from interacting with the global scientific community because of poor communications.
Terrific opportunities exist to build National Information Infrastructures in Africa to connect to the Global Information Infrastructures to find solutions to these and other critical strategic problems.

2. Sustainable development: This whole question of sustainable development creates perhaps the most exciting opportunities in Africa for technologies such as are represented by those working in the technology consortium. The term "sustainable development" means that life is a set of trade-offs, that development in places like Africa must occur and will occur, and therefore, one should not talk in terms of preserving or conserving, but rather talk in terms of economic development done smartly. This means that sustainable development offers enormous economic opportunities and is already spawning whole new industries and technology approaches to unmet problems. Costa Rica is now seen by many as a laboratory for the world. South Africa is also experimenting. The idea is to commercialize projects that sustain the environment yet enable economic development. In Cost Rica, for example, they are building up the National Institute for Biodiversity and new vehicles, buildings, computers and field biology stations are coming on-line. The World Bank is preparing to fund $80 million for a five-year project. An enormous amount of new knowledge is being created about organisms and ecology. Commercial software is being developed to support cataloging of over a half-million species, which has created alliances between Costa Rica and American biodiversity companies. Contracts have been signed to extract from local trees, migratory bird habitats are being established, deforestation projects are underway, bamboo plantations are being grown to replace wood and concrete for homes. In South Africa, the government is committed to electrifying 2.5 million households in five years. It cannot afford to extend the electrical grid, so the South Africans are switching to solar and wind sources of power. Battelle Memorial Institute has designed a biomass gasification system to produce power and FERCO of Atlanta has licensed the process and will soon start building a test project. The World Bank is funding similar projects in Scandinavia. Secretary of Energy O'Leary has shown considerable interest in such projects. Finally, in Curtiba, Brazil, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Bangalore, India and Jakarta, Indonesia, whole new sets of projects are coming on line to repair cities under pressure from poverty and population growth. Curtiba has learned how to mix manufacturing, services and commerce and offers services that exceed many First World cities. All of these kinds of initiatives apply to Africa.

3. Biotechnology: Significant developments have occurred in biotechnology over the past two decades. Significant biotech discoveries have been made in the agrofood sector and real commercial production in the U.S. is expected within the next two decades. Improvements have been made in biofeeding, diagnostic kits, seed and crop quality innovations, and trials of several transgenic plants. Enormous progress is expected here in the near future. Trial tests of genetically-modified crop species and large-scale marketing of transgenic plants are expected to come on line early in the next century.
These dramatic changes caused by biotechnology will permit African countries to generate more agricultural products to the point where surpluses are possible. Africans themselves have made significant achievements, especially with regard to micropropagation of banana, yams, cassava, soybeans, maize and rice. Africans need more documentation centers and telecommunications access to, and computerized storage of, biotechnology information. They need better facilities, more specialized equipment, and they need to find cost-effective ways to integrate their biotechnology research into the agricultural food production process.

4. Health care: The challenges in the area of health care seem to many to be daunting, but they are actually quite workable. Study after study shows that there are a set of highly cost-effective actions that Africans could take that would cause their health care systems to make quantum leaps forward.
Developing countries tend to spend too much on urban hospitals and far too much on tertiary-care hospitals that focus on research, education and training. The tendency is to spend far too little on public health services and clinical care in public and community health centers. They need primary health care interventions designed to reduce childhood malnutrition and mortality, mainly from infectious diseases; they need chemotherapy against tuberculosis, integrated prenatal and delivery care, mass programs to deworm children, provision of condoms, and anti-smoking measures. Because of pressure from the World Bank, some 22 countries are redesigning their national health care packages and assessing how best to reallocate their resources. This process has been slow, but donor countries are jumping on the bandwagon with particular focus on control of infectious diseases, tuberculosis control, and AIDS control.

5. Legal Center: The Organization for African Unity (OAU) and other organizations have shown a keen interest in establishing a legal documentation center in Africa. This idea has attracted the attention of various governments. Most countries in Africa are moving toward free-market economies. This requires each to update its laws and regulations to support implementation of new economic policies. Such an update will cause most of African law to change, and will indeed require major changes to entire judicial systems. There is not now a central repository of any kind that makes information available on the laws and regulations specific to each African state. The World Bank has loaned money to Guinea to put laws concerning economic development on computer and then to train public administrators on those laws. The French began a cooperation program to put the laws of four or five West African states on computer. The Ministers of the francophone states decided in Canada to create a regional documentation center and the government of Benin set aside a building in Cotonou to house such a center. The European Commission approved the idea for such a center but the project was impeded by the desire to cross linguistic boundaries of French and English. The UN Development Program has financed a regional project to harmonize the penal and criminal codes of Africa. But what is really needed is a center that would serve all African governments who participated. It could have a digitized library containing African laws, international laws, and treaties concerning business and economic development. Its digitization would facilitate retrieval, alteration and communication over distance. It would facilitate the study of research, study, preparation and coordination of legal texts and regulations. It could be used as a center for African judges and lawyers to study the changes that are taking place in international law and the legal aspects of privatization.
It would also serve as a training center for civil servants. This is a concept that could attract American government investment since it is in the American national interest that American interests are reflected in African law, especially since the main competitors in Africa are French and British, the former colonizers.

In conclusion, there is enormous opportunity for the American-Africa Technology Consortium to organize American technology companies to tackle the far-reaching challenges presented by Africa. Furthermore, the consortium has the capacity to influence the American government to support its efforts and assist in the finance needed to move American technologies to applications in Africa that will produce the kind of commercial synergism needed to develop Africa into a mass market for American products and services. -------------

Message-Id: <> Date: Fri, 23 Feb 1996 04:54:22 -0500 From: Abdul-Rehman Malik as-Shukri <> Subject: Technology for Africa (fwd)

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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