I would like to initiate a discussion on a viewpoint floated by a few Africa Development Analysts, but which has not elicited much debate. It's a topic I might do a research paper on too, but want to explore the existing knowledge base first.
The hypothesis is that the key to Africa's development is an infusion of more human capital in the engineering sciences. The chief proponents of this viewpoint are Prof. Calestous Juma and Dr. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka. Although I find no fault with their general diagnosis of Africa's development problem, I, however, wonder whether a shortage of engineers is one of the main hindrances. In fact, I want to claim that it's not for lack of engineers that Africa isn't developing faster, but most African economies just don't present an environment conducive to the application of engineering sciences. In other words, we could be training engineers but they are not needed by our economic set-up.
As an applied economist, I like dealing with numbers and empirics. If Juma and Oyelaran-Oyeyinka's notion was valid, are there empirical studies that have established a causal link from engineering to economic development across the globe? For example, the proponents of this hypothesis often use the "celebrated" Asian/Chinese engineering achievement. But, did Asia/China first train many engineers before launching its economic expansion or the rapid economic expansion created the demand for engineers? In other words, what caused what? Could there be a dual feedback mechanism? And if the number of engineers is the driver, just what is the basic minimum (threshold) to lauch into rapid growth?
One possible indicator of shortages of human capital, in economics/business lingo, at least, is remuneration. If Africa's development was hindered by a shortage of engineers, we should expect African countries to pay engineers at a certain premium for their "scarce" expertise, compared to other continents or countries. From the little I know, African engineers are poorly paid, on average. Do we then have contrarian evidence to support the "shortage" claim?
Your contributions are very welcome and much appreciated.