Can Nigeria Leapfrog into
the Information Age?

by PHILIP EMEAGWALI

World Igbo Congress, New York.

Since delivered on August 30,1997, the central ideas of this 40-page speech were widely debated and discussed and finally gave birth to the new:

  1. African Institute of Science and Technology,
  2. Nelson Mandela Institution, and
  3. Abuja Technology Village.


Abuja Technology Village was first conceived and proposed by Philip Emeagwali as Africa's Silicon Valley specializing in offshore outsourcing.

 I thank the organizers of this convention for inviting me to share my thoughts with you. On a personal note, I appreciate the invitation to be speaker and guest of honour. But more importantly, I believe that inviting a scientist to speak at this convention is a recognition of the potential role of technology in improving the standard of living in Nigeria and Africa. I would like to share with you my thoughts on how to formulate a strategic plan to launch Nigeria and other African countries into the Information Age, in order to achieve economic development and prosperity. I am particularly interested in the Nigerian Vision 2010 which I believe should have been used as a blueprint for leapfroging our nation from the Agricultural Age into the Information Age. Later, I will propose a three-track approach that will enable Nigeria to invest evenly in agricultural, industrial and information sectors.

For a better understanding of where we are going, we need to retrace our steps. About 10,000 years ago, Africans in the valley of the River Nile entered the Agricultural Age when they discovered that cultivating the soil for crops and shepherding herds of animals would provide more food than just hunting animals and gathering fruits. This leap into the Agricultural Age motivated Africans to develop mathematics, chemistry, astronomy and medicine as tools for the new age. Our advanced technological knowledge enabled us to build majestic pyramids, the tallest buildings in the world for 3,700 years. These pyramids withstood all types of desert storms and still stand today, like the Rock of Gibraltar.



On August 30, 1997, the flagship AIT [African Institute of Technology] was first conceived and proposed by Philip Emeagwali to compete with MIT [Massachussetts], IIT [India] and AIT [Asia]. On March 11, 2005, the Commission for Africa [Chaired by Tony Blair], added its voice and instructed the World Bank to make AIT a reality.

  Europeans learned our technology, used it to enter the Industrial Age and became more prosperous than we are. They learned to put capital together and mass-produce consumer goods. Unless Africa leapfrogs into the Information Age, the economic gap between Europe and Africa would widen because Europe is about to enter the age. In other words, to catch up, Africa must take two steps for every step Europe takes.

Many Nigerians believe that our country takes one step backward when other countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, and South Africa take one step forward. This belief is substantiated by the World Bank which now ranks our oil-producing nation as the 13th poorest country in the world; and has declared that the standard of living in pre-independence Nigeria was higher than what exists today. We have indeed, taken several steps backward. While acknowledging that we squandered and mismanaged our petroleum revenues and that we are no longer the "Giant of Africa," we must accept that now is the time for a new Nigeria.


Philip Emeagwali introduced the novel concept of Africa leapfrogging into the Information Age via offshore outsourcing. [Photo taken in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in October 2006.]

 

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