Innovation: The African Challenge


By Pharm. Nelson Okwonna


Society as we know it has thrived by the concerted efforts of individuals aimed at attaining the inner quest in man for certain heights of good and nobility. Man, across time and space, has pursued this quest for centuries old. He had overcome obstacles, engaged noble and ignoble means, created and destroyed civilisation and still seeks to attain to a certain place of fulfilment within himself.This man believes in something.

He believes in the nobility of his intentions, the dignity of his acts and the imperfections of his frame. His belief is not one borne out of an original intention but that of a discovery; a discovery of the necessity of faith. He is by nature compelled to believe in the essential worth of certain things and to make their fulfilment his ultimate aim. It is true across all civilisations, therefore, that one cannot do something well except one believes in it and that success is happiness and fulfilment attained by the deployment of our best efforts towards our best beliefs.

Science has not been unanimous in the description of the cause of man and hence, her beautiful dissertations cannot be trusted to define her course but to, at best, explain our view of it. In Africa, majority of us within our own sciencehave explained the cause and course of man — we believe in God as the first cause and believe this well; we believe in the existence of a reality other than us, which had designed and framed our universe and had, by this creation, defined our cause and course. We believe that this Reality had created the universe, as we know it and all that is therein.

Our belief is unique but not novel, though very religious and superstitious, i.e. we believe in spirits, in witches, in omens, demons and angels. We believe in black inferiority, in donor agencies and our helplessness. Despite these, we are not unlike the West, for they too believe, just that we believe in different things. We have believed in everything but in ourselves. We believe in our teachers but not in what is taught.

Africa was taught to write English but not communication. She was taught Algebra but not necessarily to think. Thinking and communication are essential nature of one’s humanity and we are very human. We needed not be taught these things because we knew them well. So, it was not reason that we were taught but rather several aspects of life within which we have not reasoned. Reason teaches that it is a failing to despise oneself because one was taught; one must value one’s teacher but not above the taught matter. The only teacher that is above all is the one who himself is the taught matter.

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Europe didnot teach Africa only of European people, she taught her mathematics, foreign languages, logic, prose, governance and other things.She taught her what she knew of the universe, while expanding her knowledge and fill of what she knows of ours. Africa believed what was taught but made the mistake of not understanding that her teachers were, more or less, observers and students like herself. She forgot that it was about meditating more on the precepts than on bowing before the master.

There are precepts; they form the backbone of science and of successful governments. They are not made by man but discovered by man and men who have built by it were more successful than their peers. By this, I mean the precepts that made the kite and the aeroplane fly; that which lights our skies and our homes; that by which our submarine and the shark navigate the deep. There is wisdom in nature from which man has learned a great deal and, by so doing, invented our world. For invention is really a discovery – a discovery from nature, relationships and by sheer perception of the intents of reality.

Our focus was not on these precepts which actually are the laws of God seen in nature, for nature is His. Our focus was on the teachers who had taught us and, by so doing, we became poor imitators of the West; the only people ashamed of their accent. We became religious but not critical. Crude oil laden but not refiners, gold laden yet very poor.

We did not learn the rules of value creation. We did not learn that all materials of value are at their least economic value, until acted upon by an immaterial resource; that processing is the expansion factor in value creation.We did not learn that natural raw materials, at their least economic value, would deplete in value, if not acted upon by an immaterial resource or value system. We did not imbibe the principle that the value potential of every raw material or immaterial resource can be perpetually increased.

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Because of these failings, we despised ourselves. We didnot recognise that the most important resource is us and our thoughts, our faith and our ability to develop new processes, products and management. Hence, we sold ourselves for a dime. A generation that strove to win the US lottery; by this we did not please God or ourselves, for His pleasure is indeed pleasurable to man. We did not learn the lesson of the ants.

We didnot learn, like the ants, that the failure of leadership is not enough excuse. We became sluggards who have explained away all our woes, unchallenged by our blindness, unfocused by it, only lost in religious fervour, denying that the greatest solution God had designed is us. To us the preacher cried:

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise; which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, (emphasis mine)” – Prov. 6:6-7

One of the best lessons from the ants is the lesson of self-leadership. We mustnot be in government to proffer solutions. Creating and proffering solutions is in itself leadership. An innovator must delist from the sluggard fraternity. He must rid himself of all excuses, as he realises, perhaps for the first time, that his obstacles demand innovative solutions, which he can proffer.

Now, what should the ant study teach us?

Wisdom, I believe. Now, this should be obvious because ant-study, like every scientific endeavour, can fetch you a PhD and not the necessary applicable wisdom; the difference is in the intentionality of the scientist. You see, Africa has studied the ants, but she was not intentional in her study. If she was, then she was not strategic enough.If she was, then she would have treasured wise execution over university degrees, prosperity against mere survival, petrol over crude oil, processing over raw material, collaboration over solo efforts.

You would love the ants. They have a local wisdom. They understand the cause of the anthill, and they’ve made its preservation the greatest aim. They know that local wisdom is borne of local research and local productivity, and the usefulness of local resources for the greater good of the locals (Africans). They understand that their labour is not only wisdom but also Godly.

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Now, I have spoken of this African as if he were an individual with a specific self-hating disposition; as if he truly delights in his sorry state; as if he prays for more gloom, more importation of finished products and exportation of crude materials. I have spoken as if we pride ourselves in our corrupt statistics and of inept leadership. I have spoken as if our very failings are completely unique to us.Did I not notice the emerging dismemberment of the fabrics of society in North America, the volatility of the fabric of trade and the failings of corporate governance?

Charity begins at home; human failings are not alien to us, only of a different shade. For indeed, Africa has triumphed in many other things. For one, she has happy people and one of her largest nations could boast of the most evangelical church on earth.

The failing of trade seen in major economic hiccups in Europe and North America is to help us confirm that it is not the teacher that was beautiful and true but the taught material. The beauty of the teacher is a function of her practice of what she taught, or tried to teach. There is a difference between the body of knowledge and the harbinger of it…. “We hold these truths to be self-evident”… “Wehold…”

Truths are God given and are the right picture of reality; the grasp of it is innovation and the practice of it is life. Human failings are borne from the perversion of it and the practice of a perverted logic. Just as we could see in mutants, mutation might confer certain unique and even desirable characteristics, like an increase in proportion but it is either not good for the kind from which it was formed or that it is not of a perpetuating character. The duo of suitability for kind and perpetuity defines the unique characteristics of truth.

Humanity’s failing is from a perversion of truth and this failing is not African, Africa has her blindness but she must not excuse herself. She must make manifest her belief, her faith.

There is therefore this challenge;this call to nobility and truth; to virtue, if I must say, for us to rise beyond the shackles of our mind. To begin today, to not just exist, but to rather engage positively…God being our helper.


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