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Dear All:

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.


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On the subject of technical professionals in developing countries, but probably only marginally related to your question, I recall having read an interesting book chapter that mentioned the case of the Korean Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), which sent more than 1000 engineers and technicians for months of on-the-job training at developed iron and steel mills before they returned home to contribute to construction and operations. I no longer have access to the book to see what else from it could be of interest, but if you have access to a good library you might track it down and flip through it. It is Technological Capability in the Third World. Ed. Martin Fransman and Kenneth King. London: Macmillan, 1984. Admittedly a bit old, but perhaps with some interesting content nonetheless. The specific chapter I'm thinking of is Martin Bell's "'Learning' and the Accumulation of Industrial Technological Capacity in Developing Countries."

Avi: the story of POSCO is documented here: Kim, Y-G. (1997) “Innovation and the role of Korea’s universities,” in Lewis Branscomb, L. and Young-Hwan Choi, eds., Korea at the Turning Point: Innovation-based Strategies for Development , Praeger, Westport, Conn., USA. I am featuring it in a volume I am preparing on the role of universities in economic transformation.
Hezekiah: Your argument is based on a selective reading that clearly misrepresents our work. For example, my 26-page Hinton Lecture devotes 10 pages to discussions of the contexctual issues that you justifiably raise:
Much of the work deals with poor infrastructure and not simply the lack of engineers. Most sensible people will not seek to explain Africa's decline using a single cause. A claim that people can be that simplistic needs to provide more than just an allegation. In other words, you are denying what I have not asserted and asserting what I did not deny. Calestous
Hez, One last point (stated in jest of course), is that only a certain sub-set of economics still believes in linearity. Most of the intellectual world has moved on. This exchange reminds of anothe debate raging in "World Development" about the relationship between infrastructure and basic health. One person is asking for numbers and the others is saying housewives have always known about the role of clean water in the management of infant mortality. You know I am not defencing my discipline here, possible just pandering to common sense like the poor mothers who are having a hard time convincing economists that clean water might be of some value even if they cannot prove it :) By the way, Raila is an engineer! CJ
I do not know about other countries, Hezekiah. But I can speak about my counry-India. The moment we declared ourselves a Republic, the five year plans were initiated for developing the economy. At the same time, taking the help of the Soviet Union and east bloc countries, public sector undertakings were set up. The graduate engineers from existing who were recruited were all sent abroad to east bloc and European countries to be trained in the latest technology. Simultaneously, the foundations were laid for world class technical education by setting up the Indian Institute of Technology in major cities of the country. As a result, the next lot of engineers trained did not need to be sent abroad any more, and the process once started continued on to contrbute to national growth.

I think this is the best approach for any developing economy.

As regards low salaries, this is nothing to feel bad about, as long as it ensures a decent living. In India, until a few years ago, we had the lowest salaries possible. But then, the cost of living is also much lower here. This must be true of many developing countries too, so that there is nothing to crib about.
Rina: Thank you for the insights on India. Here is an example of an African countries that is looking into ways to learn from India's experiences:
Thanks for the link, Calestous. But the report does not tell us whether Ghana has made the necessary changes in the system to make technical education world-class, while asking more students to take up science.

I must mention here, that in India, giving one's children a science education was aqlways considered an achievement, something akin to giving them professional education. There were also several engineering colleges to begin with. What was lacking was the linking of such education with the demands of the global market, and the standardization of the syllabus. Hence, Indian students who went to Europe and US in the '50s had to repeat their graduation.This is where the government worked.

Where low salaries are considered, our premier institutes are also facing a problem, with the best of their faculty being lapped up by global companies today. But then, every sector is facing a shortage of skilled hands now. I guess this cannot be helped; this is the price of progress!
The question of whether Africa needs more engineers for its development, I would say this is debatable from a variety of aspects. Firstly, what is it that we are to develop to satisfy the basic requirements of the people from a social and economic perspective. What are the available material conditions that would be utilised for an equitable distribution of the benefits of development, such as the planning when it comes to institutions of learning from primary to higher education. I am not saying this as a formula to be applied. Then the issue of engineers come into the picture determined by what Rina highlighted.



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