Are we all lazy? The debate over innovation in Africa is back

IPKenya came across this viral “article” by a certain Field Ruwe titled: “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!”.

In case you haven’t already read it, please do. It is annoyingly true for the most part and perhaps what is being described in the “article” about Zambia could be applied to lots of other African countries.

However, IPKenya does not fully agree with this “article” in so far as it terms African intellectuals as “lazy” for their failure to innovate and create.

“Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”

First of all, not all intellectuals are inventors, creators and innovators. Most intellectuals are simply that, intellectuals. They’ve published, written and done studies on their native countries, for instance critically acclaimed Zambian-born and bred Dr. Dambisa Moyo.

Is this “article” suggesting that her and others like her are lazy?

However, the main flaw in the reasoning in this “article” is that it grossly understates the role of the government and other public bodies in creating and fostering a suitable atmosphere for creativity, invention and innovation.

Last year, IPKenya highlighted WIPO’s annual world intellectual property report titled: “The Changing Face of Innovation” which notes, inter alia, that most African countries had not taken legislative steps to promote and finance research and development at public universities and Public Research Organisations (PROs). In South Africa, for instance, universities are the highest patent filers and are responsible for 75% of basic R&D spent.

Such lessons on nurturing of ideas through IP protection and technology commercialisation are slowly becoming a reality throughout Africa. With the success of the Innovation Hub, mLab and science parks in South Africa, Kenya opened its very own Innovation Hub (*i_Hub) with little if not any government funding or support. Recently a creativity hub has also been established PAWA254 to cater for copyright-related works including literary, artistic and music works.

Anyways, returning back to the Zambian context, IPKenya found the case of Zambikes as just one in many examples of the creativity and innnovation in Zambia. A local company that makes bicycles from bamboo.

Below is an informational video:

The long and short of it is that innovation, creativity and inventiveness of a nation doesnt exist in a vacuum. Skills and talents must be nurtured, ideas must be incubated, and the resultant works, technologies, designs, brands, organizational know-how and business models must be adequately protected and commercialised. All this requires an enabling and conducive environment which is the primary responsibility of the government through enacting relevant legislations as well as putting in place focussed policies that will translate into innovation-driven economic growth so as to remain competitive in the global economy. Therefore although intellectuals also have their part to play in the knowledge-based economy of today, they require the support and facilitation of the State within which they live and work.

Therefore, the mere fact that we can still point out examples of creativity and innovation in the midst of mismanaged and corrupt governments ought to be a sign of hope that with the proper governance in place, Africa will see more positive developmental growth and make more lasting contributions to global knowledge.

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2 thoughts on “Are we all lazy? The debate over innovation in Africa is back

  1. Government indeed has failed us to a certain degree. But then again, who is government? Aren’t those who work there a part of the lot? People are too busy amassing personal wealth under the guise of governing the country, that the rest of us, feel we must do the same. Rather than help the masses, hey, let us line our own pockets!!

  2. Before I start let me say, I like what is you and others like you are doing and its blogs like this one that we need to move the country and the continent in the right direction. Ruwe’s piece has hit most of us hard. I guess its how precision with which he nails it that rings so true that our initial reactions are to deny it right away. While reading it, i found myself slipping into the his position and feeling overwhelmed by what the other dude was saying, i felt I wanted to say something but what could I say, I also realised i needed to pause and digest what was being said. Towards the end, I even suspected this is fiction, that there was no flight, no such conversation, only knowledge of state of things and a good writer. it was simply too precise. I quickly told myself, whether fiction or not, it does point out a few important things. I want to talk about the lazyness.

    My view of the lazyness mentioned here is not that one wakes up and does nothing. Rather I thought it is the general apathy prevalent mostly amongst the african middle class. As you rightly point out, the government has been a huge let down. Whose fault is it? Stop and ask yourself that. Its your fault, its my fault, its our fault. The greatest democratic power necessary for good governance to take place lies with the voters. The day we will vote objectively, that’s the day when things will start shifting in the right direction. If we can make this resolve, bad leaders are much easier to deal with. This resolve will send us to the streets the minute MP start talking about pay increases and not taxes, it will send us to the streets the minute the constitution is blatantly violated. This way we can right so many wrongs that exist in Kenya.
    Does it look like we have the balls to make this resolve? You just have to look at current back and forth following the news from the ICC.

    Another aspect of the lazyness I thought was with those who are educated. Unfortunately we’ve all been wrongly told work hard, earn a good salary and escape poverty. And once one gets academic qualifications, we just sit back. Most of us do what we do to earn a salary, period. Not because we are driven by higher ideals, like being of service to humanity for doctors for instance, I could go on, but i know you get the gist. This too is apathy, laziness. do you know that the bulk of african intellectuals are sitting in multinational corporations and multilateral organisations and are simply just other walters?

    still much to say but I stop here for now.

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