The age of natural resources dominating global commerce and industry is gone. What matters now is creating knowledge and applying it. Some nations will create, others will merely consume. But wealth is concentrated at the creative stage and nations that focus on consuming, without creating technology will not prosper. Even with abundance of natural resources, which in many instances, the consuming nations cannot independently process without the knowledge partners cannot change this trajectory of limited national wealth without technology creation.
Let me illustrate using Nigeria where they speak the language of petroleum. In the petroleum industry, there are the downstream and upstream sectors. While the upstream focuses on exploration of crude oil, downstream does the distribution and marketing. The money is in the upstream sector, a major reason we have the foreign partners concentrated therein. That is where the knowledge creation is done and utilized in the industry. I am cautious to say, without the knowledge partners in Nigeria, helping to explore this crude oil, Nigeria cannot mine this product. Verdict: the oil will be there and of no tangible economic use. This will follow a pattern where villages have water underneath them but no drilling expertise to harness the water for cooking and drinking. Similarly, Africa has embraced ICT, but we are just focusing on the downstream.
We are not creating it and we will not benefit much from the technology economic benefits unless we move up on the pyramid. Upstream ICT will involve designing computing systems, cellphones, routers, device drivers, and all other infrastructures that enable ICT revolution. Instead of importing the latest cellphones, we will think how to design them. How do we do that? We need fundamental changes in our national policies on technical education. That is the answer. I believe in knowledge and education creates it. Specifically, technical education is the engine that will move up the ICT movement from downstream to upstream operation as we expand our commitments on microelectronics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, mathematics, etc.
This will be a good path to improve our national competitiveness and transform Africa into a global outsourcing hub. If our students have the skills, the multinational companies will come to tap our comparative cheaper labor.
In conclusion, there is an opportunity in the upstream ICT sector and it is time Africa gets there. Our government can facilitate a national ICT transition by funding major investments in microelectronics to enable our universities, research labs, polytechnics and small enterprises acquire and diffuse the technology. This will create jobs and diversify our economies out of minerals and hydrocarbons.