«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»
Implement explicit national policies in the various branches of technological development Become more aware of the need to make the national science and technology plan an integral part of the national plan for economic and social development Redouble their efforts to develop a planning process for science and technology with the participation of personnel from all sectors.
Science and technology has been the recurring theme throughout the various regional documents on African development such as the Lagos Plan of Action right up to NEPAD.
Joint Science Academies Statement: Science and Technology for African Developmnent.
Statement issued by the national science academies of the G8 Nations and the Network of African Academies on the eve of the Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 200542 Unfortunately, science and technology has continued to take the back seat when it comes to policy formulation under the neo-liberal economic framework that African countries have pursued in the last two and half decades. These policies have been vigorously implemented by many African governments at the behest of the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs), leading to cuts in funding for both universities and local research and development (R&D) institutions. Science and technology is never the issue when negotiations on macro-economic policy are carried out with BWIs and other donors. In fact it can be confidently stated that science and technology is more of an after thought and one of the first targets of arbitrary budget cuts.
On the whole, it is correct to say that despite the fact that African governments realise the importance of science and technology in development, they have made little progress in formulating comprehensive national science and technology policies that are integrated in their national plans and in translating these into actual developmental programmes that contribute to the achievement of developmental objectives. In other words, most African countries have made little progress in effectively harnessing and applying science and technology for development in general and, worse still, in uplifting the living standards of the majority of its people.
The question that arises is: if African governments realise the importance of science and technology in development and if science and technology have the potential of transforming African economies and improving the livelihoods of the people, why then has the above situation occurred? In other words, why has Africa failed to use science and technology for the good of its own people?
That question also begs these other questions:
1. Are African governments serious about and committed to using science and technology for developing their economies and improving livelihoods?
2. Are the national innovation systems for African countries appropriate and well structured to function in the expected way?
3. Do African countries have science and technology policy-making frameworks that allow them to harness the inputs of the various stakeholders that can effectively contribute to and are affected by the science and technology policies?
4. Do African countries have the capacity to formulate and implement the science and technology policies and programmes?
5. Does the neo-liberal framework allow for the harnessing of science and technology for purposes of growth and development in Africa?
Starting with question number one, it should be noted that while African countries have talked for a long time about the importance of science and technology in development at international economic forums and even in national policy documents, they have not committed themselves to drawing up national science and technology policies or have taken too long to do so. Further, those that have drawn science and technology policies have tended to end at that point. These policies need to be elaborated upon into plans and programmes that are then implemented.
Investments in science and technology have a long gestation period and as such, they require foresight and serious commitment. It is only under a visionary leadership that is prepared to make sacrifices of current consumption in return for expected (but not necessarily certain) long-term productivity and welfare improvements that such investments can be made. Unfortunately, African governments have been preoccupied with immediate problems of macro-economic stability i.e. attempts at addressing inflation and budget deficits to remain credit worthy in the eyes of the BWIs and the international community.
In addition, the life span of politicians is on average five years subject to renewal. This on its own tends to become the politician’s planning horizon in the absence of a commonly shared national vision. In cases where a commonly shared national vision exists, the success of a politician is measured against the extent to which they have taken appropriate steps in the direction of attaining that vision. But in the absence of such vision, politicians would use short-term achievements for gaining popularity and in the process ignore long-term investments such as science and technology development. Many African countries do not have a commonly shared national vision and logic points towards an outcome of lack of commitment to investments in the development of national scientific and technological capabilities.
To answer questions two and three: Both the national innovation systems and the science and technology policy-making structures in Africa are disarticulated and fragmented. There is limited interaction among these at the national level and greater interaction of the same with the international sphere. The following are commonly cited as the major actors in the national innovation system and stakeholders in the science and technology policy making arena: R&D institutions in the various sectors of the economy involved in applied research, institutions of higher learning involved in basic research, policy researchers, policy makers and the private sector including small and medium enterprises.
Scientists involved in basic research are interested in publishing in "reputable" international journals so as to gain promotion within their university communities. The research priorities normally do not coincide with the problems, interests and priorities for African countries. R&D institutions or industry for transformation into useful products does not take up the research outputs. Because of this disconnect, the existing stock of knowledge is grossly under utilised in improving the lives of the population.
Donors, rather than African governments, normally fund policy researchers in Africa. It is these donors that set research priorities that are in their own interests and not necessarily those of Africa. Policy makers in Africa hardly rely on local policy researchers for advice. The international finance institutions and the donor community send "experts" to "advise" African governments and set conditionalities that determine policy direction. The private sector does not engage in much research and development. The firms that have the resources to undertake this type of activity are mostly foreign owned. R&D is undertaken at the foreign headquarters and the results, normally in the form of products and in some cases processes, are then passed on to the local subsidiaries. The knowledge generated in R&D is therefore internalised in the company and those capabilities are not passed on to African nations. In other words, the potentially beneficial spill over effects from this R&D are next to nonexistent.
Policy makers in Africa view policy making as their domain. It is a correct generalisation to say that the stakeholders mentioned before, constituting the national innovation systems, do not have an established and well functioning framework to enable them to contribute to national science and technology policy formulation.
The above scenario can be depicted diagrammatically as shown on the following page. The diagram shows that there are weak linkages existing within the national innovation system and among stakeholders in the science and technology policy-making arena and stronger linkages of these with the international players. The first challenge that Africa faces is to reverse that situation and strengthen the links within the national innovation system while establishing an equal as opposed to a subservient relationship with the international community.
In relation to the fourth question that raises issues of capacity in science and technology policy formulation, it is worth noting that, much as science and technology policy has developed into a discipline offered at some universities in the world, very few Africans hold a Masters, let alone, a PhD degree in this area. This we can say with confidence for the 23 countries that are members of the Africa Technology Policy Studies network. However, this does not mean that African countries do not have the intellect to address this area. Countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe have done quite well in the area of human resources development although this has been undermined by migration due to the internal economic situation, particularly in Zimbabwe.
The point is that the region does have the capacity to formulate science and technology policies in the sense that it has experts in the different areas of relevance to science and technology policy formulation, but the problem is that the experts in the different areas are narrowly focussed because of the environment in which they are operating i.e. the disarticulated national innovation system referred to earlier. Scientists within basic and applied research institutions have been confined to their laboratories when in-fact they can contribute to the science and technology policy formulation process. The argument is that the capacity is there, but it is simply not harnessed.
Figure 1. Relative strength of national and international linkages
Finally, with regards to the fifth question on the suitability of the neoliberal framework in facilitating growth and development through the application of science and technology in Africa, experience has shown that the opposite prevails. There is a need for an interventionist approach in the development of science and technology as exemplified by the South East Asian and Japanese experiences that are discussed later in the paper.
Market forces alone cannot deliver in a field characterised by both long gestation periods, uncertainties on future returns to the individual firm and externalities. There definitely have to be some policy "carrots and sticks" to promote investment in science and technology and its utilisation.
The argument advanced in this paper is not necessarily a new one but one that has been made before in the literature. However the paper contributes to this debate by tabling an alternative model to harnessing science and technology for national development. One of the most
prominent writers in this field, Lall makes the following observation:
"The assumption of free markets under perfect information giving correct signals for optimal allocation of resources including technology acquisition is not tenable. In the presence of market failures markets will not by themselves give correct signals to guide allocation of resources in accordance with a more dynamic view of comparative advantage e.g. in case of widespread information imperfections. In such cases free trade and import liberalisation may not be the best policy for developing countries undergoing structural adjustment and change. This is not to deny that increased competition through trade may still be beneficial in highly protected and technologically backward economies; the point is that free markets will not by themselves result in a more desirable outcome" (Lall 1999:28).
The neo-liberal model assumes that policy reforms alone can get prices right and that this leads to supply responses on the part of firms. However experience has shown that this has not been the case, and this leaves no other conclusion than that the model is premised on a flawed theory. Lall
suggests that this flaw is based on two erroneous assumptions that:
• While there may exist failures in factor markets; these do not exist in the product markets that give signals for resource allocation.
However in the neo-liberal discourse the reasons for making such a distinction on the nature and incidence of market failure are not apparent and are not spelled out.
• All that is necessary for the model to work is to get prices right.
Accepting the presence of market failures in the product markets requires that liberalisation should not be a rapid, sweeping and uniform opening up of free trade, but gradual and selective to allow factor markets to be improved. This requirement is made all the more imperative by the scarcity of the intervention resources among competing uses.
"Thus the basic presumption of the neo-liberal approach, that getting 'prices right' is necessary and sufficient for stimulating sustained and efficient industrial growth, can no longer be sustained" (Lall 1999:40).
It should be clear that supply responses take a little more than getting prices right.
Section 3 below focuses on the SADC and reviews some of the regional efforts that have been made to harness scientific and technological resources for development.
In the same vein as with other African efforts, the SADC has for some time given space to the role of science and technology in its declarations and protocols. The protocol on education can be said to be a trailblazer in this direction. However it must be observed from the onset that the SADC has mainly played a co-ordinating role in this field and its success is still subject to a positive evaluation. Article 8 of the Protocol on Education places emphasis on regional co-operation and higher education. Science and technology are to be achieved through first-rate programmes in post– graduate education and training and both basic and applied research for the development of the region. Owing to the expensive nature of research in science and technology, the protocol also emphasised the need for cooperation and the sharing of facilities.