While our ancestors have been around for millennia, industrialisation began in earnest only in the 1800s. The First Industrial Revolution could be said to have birthed Capitalism, with the growth of economies through the innovation of steam engines and printing that transformed transport, communication and energy systems.
The Second Revolution was characterised by the innovation of electricity and driven by political capitalism, where according to Gabriel Kolko, “the businessmen took firmer control of the political system because the private economy was not sufficient enough to forestall protest from below”.
The Third one (currently taking shape) can be said to be driven by social capitalism “a shared economy” where the realisation that the change of societies augments national and international economies and where Public-Private-Non-Profit Partnerships are the relevant conversations necessary for political, social, economic and cultural growth. Changes in transport, communication and energy are visible in our times.
The Fourth Revolution, as projected, will focus around connecting the physical and biological features with digital technology, creating what could be referred to as moral capitalism where the needs for growth will be matched by human moral consciousness – a characteristic lacking in our current societies that are clouded by greed, bigotry, corruption, inequality, irresponsibility towards our environment and systems which clothe rascals in robes and honesty in rags.
While these conversations and advancements are taking root in Europe, the Americas and Asia, I am left wondering where the place of Africa is, in shaping future global interactions and industry. The current realities allow for a broad-based contribution as the systems are yet to be far and deeply entrenched, signifying that Africa can leapfrog (for instance in the telecommunications industry) and join in the creation of the Fourth and even lead the Fifth one.
Is there potential and capacity in equal measure to realise this? Yes.
Whether Africa has in the past shaped world civilisation is a subject of historians, and is relative to each discipline. Whether Africa has produced intelligent persons who have made substantive contribution to the world in among various fields, is a subject not to be questioned – and whoever does lives in regrettable ignorance. However, it is important to note some of the errors made by African leaderships that have deliberately crucified the continents’ and African people’s Honora at home and largely abroad.
At the top of the list is the lack of protection of intellectuals by the State and Societies. Top brains have not found fertile conditions to lead growth, and have taken refuge in foreign countries – for instance Prof Calestous Juma and Prof Ali Mazrui.
For the intellectuals who do work with governments, their roles are limited to advisory responsibilities on decisions already made by the practitioners; they do not get to influence the direction of policy.
The 21st Century seems to be a time where the fresh wounds of colonialism have dried up. Many other countries were colonised and have managed to make proud their civilizations and innovated through difficulties under no easier circumstances: Africa must follow suit.
Let history be kind and remember this generation of Africans as those who shaped the future more than understand the past and present, developed socio-political structures that supported the practitioners and the intellectuals to create strategies and methods to cause future industrial revolutions.
For this to be realised, the tribal politics have to end, state-to-state disputes must be better resolved, the hegemony of state muscles have to be used to uplift other small states, and our international relations and foreign policies have to be future oriented, not just maintaining status quo and of shared values, not just interests. (
— Writer is MD, Centre for International & Security Affairs.