Africa: Can Africa Industrialise in Its Present Form?

Construction of the 1.5 km Henri Konan Bédié Bridge in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire (file photo).
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Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi Kanyarusoke: M-ASHRAE; M-SASEE | This is Part 2 of Dr. Eng. Kant Ateenyi Kanyarusoke's four part series titled: ' Can Africa industrialise in its present form? - Lessons from elsewhere'. Here he discusses what he calls "enabling factors for industrialisation".

Wherever the industrial revolution found root, in form of manufacturing, there were predisposing conditions for it. Some conditions repeated themselves in different countries but others were unique to specific societies. In this article, we explore these factors in England and in continental Western Europe - the presumed original areas of today's modernity.

Many reasons have been given by history researchers as to why the revolution we are discussing started in England and not anywhere else. Here, we will focus on those which could be more helpful in today's sub-Sahara Africa. These can be grouped under 4 areas: Geography, Governance, Intellectual Scientific freedom, and Commercialisation.

Geography availed the inhabitants with an island separated and protected from attacks and instability of continental Europe at the time. It availed many navigable rivers and plenty of fresh water for both transport and future process industries. The sea provided the island with deep water river estuaries, allowing easy and cheap connection of the hinterland to the rest of the world for commerce. London city, for example, developed because of its location on the Thames-North sea estuary. Huge deposits of best quality coal and rich iron ore all over the island were the key raw material precursors to the revolution. Later, crude oil deposits in the North Sea were to spark developments in controlled combustion and chemical processes.

Relevant to most countries in sub-Saharan Africa today, is the observation that prior to England's industrial revolution, historians report one in agriculture. To the authors however, both revolutions seem to have been intersecting parts of a creativity and innovation continuum running through England in the eighteenth century. Jethro Tull's 1701 efforts to improve a seed drill and Joseph Foljambe's 1730 ones on the plough are quite similar to those of 1709 Abraham Derby on making Pig Iron using coke instead of charcoal or of Thomas Newcomen on the 1712 steam power and later, of 1769 James Watt;s innovations on Newcomen's engine. The point is that these and other innovations took place in an era of great desire - and in a country giving the freedom - to apply the then existing scientific knowledge in solving Man's problems. Similar and concurrent innovations existed in non-mechanical sciences applications as well. Thus, Robert Bakewell's and Thomas Coke's work on selective breeding of domestic animals, adoption and refinement of crop rotation, along with land reclamation methods learnt from the Dutch were effectively used in a purely British system of legislated land enclosures to produce large quantities of food. These in turn led to a rapid population growth on shrinking 'free' land, and thus drove people to cities, where they could then provide low cost labour for industrialisation to meaningfully take off.

Geography and Science aside, historians point to peace and political stability provided by a progressive monarchy since 1689 as an important precursor to the revolution. The overthrow of the autocratic English catholic monarch, King James II and replacement by his daughter, Mary II and her protestant Dutch husband William III as joint rulers ushered in a golden era of intellectual and commercial freedom. Protestantism encouraged hard work, scientific enquiry, technological progress, entrepreneurship, and intellectualism. It challenged and overcame Catholicism's conservatism of the previous era. With the new monarch's agreement to submit to parliament, and pronouncement of the English bill of rights, it was easier to convince Scotland to merge its parliament with England's in 1707, thus forming a most powerful single political and economic nation, Great Britain then. The new monarchy eliminated feudal tolls all over the island, actively supported entrepreneurs and developed a national free market system. It set up a formal British royal intellectual society. Because of the new found liberty, intellectualism went beyond formal British nationhood. Informal intellectual societies centred in England, covering continental Europe and European- settled Americas were formed. They enabled quick transmission and cross fertilisation of ideas and scientific thoughts in Britain. Moreover, intellectuals harassed in countries still under the yokes of catholic monarchs in Europe then, found welcoming refuge in free England. Karl Marx - from Germany - was one such intellectual. These developments, therefore, gave England an important head start in use of science to develop technologies that would set off and sustain the first industrial revolution.

The 2nd phase: Industrialisation of Europe

Industrialisation in continental Europe lagged Britain's by about 50 years, or two generations. It took off first in Belgium after an English migrant, John Cockerill set up a series of factories in the coal and mineral-rich Wallonia region in the socialist South of the country in mid 1820s. Thus, raw materials availability and permissiveness to allow settlement of non-indigenes were the two key factors responsible for initiating industrialisation in Belgium. Unlike in Britain, it was not pushed by capitalism nor by massive rural-urban migration. In fact, the more urbanised north even lagged the rural south. This is an important lesson for many African countries. Yet many other lessons can be drawn from Germany's industrialisation. In spite of having large deposits of iron, coal and being fairly ahead of Britain in chemical processes, Germany industrialisation lagged because of disunity occasioned by a multitude of more than 30 states, each trying to protect its own little market. Some states had allowed free migration of English craftsmen like the Cockerill brothers in 1782/84 and Irishman William Thomas Mulvay in 1866. The former copied and built a British - like textile factory in Ratingen in 1784 while the latter was to be instrumental in establishing Iron mining in the Ruhr region. Thousands of British workers were recruited to mine coal, start and run coke-based blast furnaces, manufacture steel for railways and cannons.

It was, however, not until after Chancellor Otto Von Bismark's 1871 unification of the German states that the country began to make huge strides in industrialisation, establishing itself as the leader of the second Industrial revolution. Following unification, the country focused on Technical Education, Chemical, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering development, quickly overtaking Britain to acquire world leadership in these areas and in production and exports of fertilisers, chemicals and automobiles.

The key lessons for today's Africa provided by Germany are therefore: Discard the borders and/or tariff and non-tariff barriers; eliminate any form of economic discrimination based on places of origin or on other irrational sectarian criteria; focus on technical and engineering education; actively seek and source willing highly skilled persons from wherever else, and facilitate their migration and integration within the local communities. Proactively support and protect budding technical enterprises irrespective of ownership.

If Britain, Belgium and Germany teach us how nations could industrialise in peace times, France shows us how war can lay seeds for industrialisation. Lacking sufficient quantities of iron and coal, burdened by a reactionary conservative aristocratic monarchy ruling over a low fertility but largely rural subsisting population on limited land, France lagged her neighbours in industrialisation. They tried to steal British textile technology during King Louis VI's reign but failed. Even after the 1789 violent overthrow of the monarchy, take-off was slow, with many businessmen fleeing to neighbouring Britain. That was to become a blessing because, there, they and their families learnt skills that would accelerate railway and locomotives building such that by 1850, France had built the biggest number of locomotives in Europe. That is lesson number one from France: Africa's diaspora who run away from either economic or political hardships on the continent need to be acquiring engineering and technical skills wherever they are, so that when times improve back home, they, or their offspring can come back and deploy the skills to industrialise.

Chaos and war financing troubles notwithstanding, the 1803-1815 Napoleonic wars and the earlier ones since 1792 availed coal and iron from conquered Belgium, helped build rail, road and canal infrastructure. Additionally, necessity to clothe and feed large numbers of front line soldiers helped to establish and grow the textiles and food canning industries. The sewing machine was invented by the French in this era. Later cooperation with Germany's Daimler, produced the Peugeot and Renault cars. Clearly the lesson for African countries in conflict is that heightened defence and security requirements in such situations, should be used to develop local long term capacity to manufacture related products, and hence, to industrialise. In Part 3, we will look at lessons for Africa from USA, USSR, and Japan.

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